A Troubled Start
by Rosey Collins
The screams becoming ever louder now, and the blood ever more frequent, Bob Porch could see little hope for Daphne Fairmont, his wife's best friend.
"She'll never make it," he whispered to Bedivere, Daphne's brother-in-law. "Where the hell is Galahad?"
Daphne, or "Daisy" as she liked to be known, had been in labour almost an hour now, and it was certain among her friends that she would not live much beyond the end. Bob's wife Evelyn was doing her best to deliver the child and to comfort the unfortunate Daisy.
"You can do it, Daisy," she said soothingly, stroking back the matted hair from her forehead.
"I can't," Daisy gasped, through clenched teeth.
"You can. Come on, just one more push."
As the poor woman attempted to push out the baby, Bedivere set off in search of her husband. Daisy pushed and heaved with all her might, trying to ignore the searing pain throughout her body.
"Come on!" Evelyn cried encouragingly, as the baby's tiny bald head emerged. "You can do it!"
With one final strain, Daisy was finally free of the burden. She lay back, exhausted, with but a few breaths left in her.
"Show me my child," she croaked, holding out her wings in desperation.
"Here," Daisy said, handing her the small, pink baby. It had been squirming, but was calmed in its mother's wings.
"My daughter," Daisy sighed, still breathlessly. "Where is my husband?"
"He'll be here soon," Evelyn assured her.
"Not soon enough."
She leant back against the wall of the church where they were living, still smiling, and her eyes closed peacefully - but Evelyn was not ready to let her go.
"Daisy, wake up!" she pleaded. "At least wait for Galahad."
Bob wandered over and, placing a wing gently on Daisy's neck, found no pulse.
"She's dead," he said sorrowfully, the screams from the child in her arms enough to confirm the fact. Evelyn took the new-born from her lifeless mother's wings and tried to calm her.
Bedivere, meanwhile, had located his brother outside the church in a terrible state, and was now trying desperately to persuade him to come to the belfry.
"Come along, Galahad, your wife needs you with her," he said, in pleading tones.
"I can't possibly see her... like that," Galahad insisted.
"But Galahad, she's on her death bed."
"I know that."
"Then for God's sake, come and be with her in her final moments. She's been askin' for you."
His brother finally relented, and together they flew up to the church belfry just in time to see Evelyn take the baby from Daisy's arms.
"Galahad," she said, desperately rocking the struggling baby up and down. "You have a beautiful daughter."
"Beautiful?" He regarded his daughter disdainfully for a moment, and then looked to his wife. "What about her?"
"I'm sorry," Bob broke in, moving over to his friend to offer his support. "She passed away a moment ago."
"I'm afraid so."
Bedivere placed a wing on his brother's shoulder, but Galahad tore free and hurried towards his dead wife.
"Daisy!" he cried. "Don't do this to me! I love you!"
Heartbroken to see his brother so upset, Bedivere glided over to him. As he placed his wings on Galahad's shoulders, he could feel them shaking.
"She's gone, Gal," he said. "I... I'm sorry."
The screams of the baby still rang in all of their ears. Galahad flashed a venomous glance at her, and then flew over the body of his dead wife and out into the night and the approaching storm. Terrified that he would do something drastic, Bedivere flew out after him.
"Galahad!" he called desperately as he began to lose sight of his brother. "Wait!"
He flew for what seemed like, and what probably was, miles, until he found Galahad hanging from the rafter of a house. He had his back to him, but sensed his brother's approach and turned around to reveal a tear-stained face.
"Oh, thank God!" Bedivere breathed a deep sigh and went to hang by his brother. It was raining now, and thunder could be heard some miles off.
"Gal, come back," Bedivere pleaded.
"Come back? Whatever for?"
"Galahad, I know you're upset, but:-"
"Upset? I'll say I'm upset! I've just lost the only person I've ever loved!"
"Look, I know it all seems awful now, but you can't just give up. Did you see her face? She was smiling when she passed away. If she knew what you:-"
"You can analyse this 'til you're blue in the face," Galahad interrupted again, "but the fact remains that she's dead. Without her, there's no point in me carrying on."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this! What about your daughter?"
There was a loud thunderclap and lightning was now flashing furiously. When Bedivere looked upon his brother's face, it was difficult to tell what was tears and what was rain, for the latter was falling furiously now.
"She is not my daughter," Galahad returned. "She is the thing that killed my wife."
"You don't know what you're saying!" Bedivere cried, horrified. "Gal, come back and..."
He stopped abruptly as Galahad took off once again, and ventured further into the storm.
"Wait!" Bedivere called, hurrying after him. "Where are you goin'?"
"To Hell!" was heard faintly through the crash of thunder and the angry rain.
Panicking dreadfully now, Bedivere flew through the storm calling his brother's name despairingly. He soon lost sight of him through the rain, but it was near daylight before he gave up looking. As he flew mournfully back to the church belfry, he told himself that Galahad was dead.
"He went out there to die," he said to Bob and Evelyn, "and that must be what he did."
"What about his baby?" Bob asked, and they all looked to the nursery where the child had now been put among the other twenty odd babies.
"I can certainly suckle her," Evelyn said, for she had had a son of her own two nights ago. "We'll be able to look after her all right."
"The poor kid's crying for her mom," Bob sighed sorrowfully.
"I'm her mom now," Evelyn said, and she flew to the nursery and clutched onto the hold with her feet, inviting the baby to suckle as three other mothers were doing with their own children. The child was reluctant at first, but Evelyn's son was beside her and when she saw him feeding from his mother, she followed suit.
"There you go," Evelyn whispered soothingly, then turning to her son she said, "Ben, this is your sister."
"She needs a name," Bob said.
"Since my great grandfather nicknamed his wife Rose, it's been traditional to call the women of our family by the name of a flower," Bedivere piped up.
"Foxglove," Evelyn murmured, watching tenderly the little girl suckling at her breast. "We'll call her Foxglove."
So passed the first hour or so of Foxglove's life. The next few years she spent in the belfry, still with the colony she had been born into, with Bob and Evelyn Porch raising her as their own. Despite all of their efforts with her, the youngster seemed somehow unable to return their love as much as they would have liked, or indeed as much as she would have liked; they were wonderful parents to her, but let us not forget Ben Porch.
Before his mother and father, Ben had always been a little angel, and one could almost see the halo when he was with his adopted sister. However, there was more to young Benjamin than met the eye, as Foxglove discovered more and more each time she was alone with him.
"I just heard what happened to your dad," he said nastily one day, when he found Foxglove alone. They had recently turned six at that time.
"I know what happened to my dad," Foxglove replied miserably. She felt tears welling in her eyes and looked dolefully at her feet.
"Yeah, but I bet they told you it was an accident."
"Of course it was an accident. He went out hunting and got caught in a storm."
"Ha! Is that what my mom and dad told you?" He always put the emphasis on "my" when talking to Foxglove about his parents. "You are so gullible, Foxglove."
She looked up tearfully into his jeering face, but could not stand to look at his devilish countenance for long, and so turned her back to him.
"What do you mean?" she dared to ask.
"Well, let me put it like this." Ben sidled over to her and moved his head close to hers, so as his mouth was by her ear. "You didn't kill just one of your parents."
Throughout her childhood Ben wore away at Foxglove's self-esteem like water on a stone. Whenever she was with Bob and Evelyn, Ben was nearly always with them, and he would pierce her with venomous looks whenever she said more than two words to them at a time.
This got gradually worse, but only once was Foxglove confronted about it, and this by Bedivere. He found her early one morning, sobbing silently to herself on a bench outside the church. It had started to rain, and Bedivere knew that if he could not get his small niece inside quickly, she would have to spend the day out here - true, it was a short flight, but Foxglove was young and had yet to perfect flying.
"You'll catch your death out here," he said, trying to sound cheerful, as he flew down and landed by Foxglove.
"I don't care."
"I think you do."
"Why should I? Nobody else does."
"Now, you know as well as I do that's not true. I care for one, and so do Bob and Evelyn, and what about your friends?"
"Friends? What are they?" was the sarcastic reply.
"Well, there's Ben, for starters."
"Ben? Huh! With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
Bedivere had suspected Ben for some time, though he was unsure of quite what. Still, he knew full well that Foxglove was unhappy, and felt sure that Ben had something to do with this.
"Is there something I should know about him?" he asked.
Foxglove had spent the earliest years of her life trying to intimidate Ben with threats of telling some grown up or other what he was doing, but he had soon succeeded in putting all such thoughts out of her head. Still she was afraid to say anything - she dismissed the issue with a shake of the head and looked woefully at Bedivere, still sobbing softly.
"I'm just not very happy here," she said. "I'm gonna learn to fly perfectly, and then get the hell out o' here."
Bedivere did not press her further but instead he (very unwisely) went to Ben. He found the lad playing with a group of friends. When pulled away to "talk", Benjamin felt a rush of panic. Despite his tough guy act he was terrified that Foxglove would speak out - maybe now she had finally done so.
"I'm a little worried about Foxglove," Bedivere said to him. "Have you noticed how absent she's been lately?"
"No," Ben muttered sulkily.
"She wasn't joinin' in your li'l game back there. Why don't you include her in these things?"
"We tried to!" Ben leapt to his own defence. "But she said she didn't feel like playing with us and she went off on her own somewhere."
"I see. Look, Ben, I think Foxglove's a little bit upset at the moment, so maybe you should try bein' extra nice to her for a bit."
"Who says I ain't nice to her?"
"I said extra nice, Ben. There's always room for improvement."
Benjamin Porch really was a hideous child - indeed, some of his hatred for Foxglove may have been out of jealousy, for she was already developing good looks. She had a very appealing complexion, enhanced somehow by the air of innocence about her, and it was thought that she would be very attractive once she grew into her head. Not so Ben: his shape roughly resembled a beanpole, and countless blemishes spoiled what could have been a handsome face. His parents reflected that, once past puberty, Ben's zits would disappear and he would no doubt fill out eventually, but for the present at least, he was - to be perfectly blunt - ugly.
Despite his unbecoming looks and his even worse personality, Ben was popular among the other children of the colony and often entreated them to join him in tormenting Foxglove. Being shy, and an orphan, she was an obvious outcast, and some thought an obvious choice for a bully victim. Ben was very much the ring leader, but he very often needed a group of some of the larger kids to back him up. It was one such occasion when he decided to confront Foxglove about the little chat he had had with Bedivere. Finding her conveniently close to a mud puddle, he signalled to a large lad named Jack. Jack obediently rushed over to the unsuspecting Foxglove and pushed her face down into the puddle. In the time she took to recover Ben was in there with her, standing threateningly over her with mud up to his ankles. He pulled her roughly up by the scruff of her neck and shook her violently.
"What have you been saying to your uncle?" he demanded, as his five companions gathered ruthlessly around them.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Foxglove replied.
"Are you going to give me a straight answer, or am I going to bury that pretty little face of yours in the mud again?"
"I haven't said anything to anyone," Foxglove insisted. "Please, let me go."
Ben glared at her momentarily, and then threw her forcefully to the ground. He signalled to his friends to disperse, which they all did, and he kicked a large globule of mud in Foxglove's face while he waited. Once his friends had gone, Ben crouched down so his face was level with hers and said threateningly, and almost inaudibly,
"You'd better not say anything to my mom and dad, because they're my parents, and you just can't win."
Since his talk with Foxglove Bedivere had been watching Ben closely, but he was a sly lad and it was difficult to pin point any trouble he might be causing with Foxglove. He had been observing his behaviour around Foxglove for only a week, when he received a visitor to the colony. It was a woman of his age who went by the name of Denise.
Nobody but Bedivere seemed to know this woman. Denise was neither pretty nor plain, but she had an attractive figure and two or three pairs of eyes looked her way. She had known Galahad and Bedivere briefly during their childhood after her family had come over from England. Bedivere seemed surprised to see her. She insisted that they go somewhere private, so he flew with her down to the main body of the church where they took a perch by one of the windows.
"These windows sure are pretty during the sunrise," Denise observed, a hint of her old English accent still remaining. "I've never seen one close up before. They have such distinct shapes."
"Every one o' these windows tells a story," Bedivere informed her. They were now staring at a glass portrayal of Moses guiding his people through the Red Sea.
"We can condemn humans as much as we like, but the fact remains, they're pretty smart."
Bedivere could tell that his friend was evading the issue - whatever that might be. He decided it was time to press her for details.
"Den, what are you doin' here?" he asked.
Taking a deep breath, Denise began, "I heard about Galahad, and I guess I wanted to say how sorry I am."
"Is that the only reason you're here?"
"No..." She hesitated a great deal before continuing. "See, I just flew in from San Francisco. I've been staying there for a while and... well, that doesn't matter." She stopped.
"Yes?" Bedivere pushed. "Go on."
"Well, there's been this guy hanging around. He's pretty rough. He drinks a lot and he doesn't really talk to anyone."
"Yes?" Bedivere breathed, not daring to hope.
"I saw him a couple of times, and I even spoke to him. He doesn't talk very much about his past, but he reckons he used to live somewhere around here, and he mentioned something about a dead wife."
"Galahad's wife died. Did he mention anything about a kid?"
"A kid? Definitely not."
"Hmm... It could be that he's forgotten her, or he just don't want to talk about her."
"Don't get too excited, Bedivere," Denise cautioned. "I thought I saw a resemblance, but it could so easily not be him. If he was alive, he would probably have come back here by now and:-"
"I have to try, Den."
"Yes, of course you do. But if it's not him, don't be too disappointed."
Bedivere announced his departure for San Francisco that evening. Foxglove, of course, was heart broken, but she did not hear the announcement with the rest of the colony. She had been practising flying, and was debating whether or not to leave, when she caught sight of Bedivere talking with Bob and Evelyn in the church porch. Without knowing why, she flew instinctively towards them and clung to the ivy above the porch.
"I can't not go," Bedivere was saying. "What if it is him?"
"It probably isn't," Bob reasoned.
"I know it probably ain't, but the point is it might be."
"But... for crying out loud, Bedivere! San Francisco? That's miles away!"
"I definitely think you should go, Bedivere," Evelyn cut in. "You're absolutely right, it just might be Galahad. After all, we never really knew what happened to him."
Foxglove held her breath when she heard this, not knowing how on earth she should react. She did not want to stay, but somehow her feet were stuck fast to the ivy and so she waited to hear more.
"What about Foxglove?" Bob asked.
"What about her?"
"Well, he is her father."
"Look, I'm not taking Foxglove all the way to San Francisco just because this tramp might be her father," Bedivere reasoned. "As far as she's concerned she has no father except you, Bob, and judging from what he said that night, I think it would be very unwise to take her with me. Besides, it probably ain't him anyway, and then how disappointed would she be?"
This was all very true, and Foxglove knew most of it - though she did not understand the reference to "that night" - but she could not believe that Bedivere was going to search for her father without telling her about it. Perhaps he did intend to let her know, but from what she had just heard it seemed unlikely. Unable to listen to any more, Foxglove flew back up to the belfry and cried herself to sleep.
Later that night, when Bedivere was announcing his departure, Foxglove received no more information than "I'm moving to San Francisco". She was upset, but scarcely surprised. She decided at once that she would not last a day here without her uncle to look after her, so she sought him out to confront him about this sudden move to San Francisco. She found him again with Bob and Evelyn.
"Bedivere, why are you going to San Francisco?" she asked straight away.
"I just think it's time to move on," Bedivere replied, lying through his teeth.
"Can I come?"
"No!" he said sharply, then, "Uh... I mean... I don't really think you're old enough to make such a long journey. You'll be all right here without me, won't you?"
"Huh. That's what you think."
Bedivere felt a finger of ice touch his heart. He felt truly terrible about this, but had somehow managed to convince himself that it was the right thing to do. With a heavy heart, he laid a wing on Foxglove's shoulder and looked her sternly in the eye.
"Look, he said, solemnly. "You just remember who you are. You're a Fairmont, and we don't take nothin' from nobody, understand? Don't let anybody else run your life, and always stick up for yourself. Will you promise me that?"
"Yes," Foxglove choked miserably, now in tears. Unable to be near to her uncle any longer, she turned and made for the belfry. Bedivere watched her go, and was almost in tears himself.
"What was that all about?" Evelyn asked, once she had gone.
"I'm just a little worried about her, that's all." Bedivere replied. "She's never been too good at lookin' after herself."
"Hey, we'll look after her, you know we will," Bob assured him, but Evelyn was not convinced that there was nothing more to it.
"That little speech certainly meant more than that," she said. "Come on, Bedivere, if there's something going on that we should know about..."
"All right," Bedivere relented. "I'm just a little worried about... Ben."
"About Ben?" Evelyn was ready to leap to her son's defence.
"I just don't think that he and Foxglove get on."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I ain't suggestin' anything. It's just that... well, you must have noticed that she's on her own an awful lot. I don't think she and the other kids get on."
"And what does that have to do with Ben?" Evelyn demanded.
"All right, I'll spell it out for you. I think Ben's been givin' her a hard time."
Needless to say that what followed was far from pleasant. Foxglove listened miserably to the yelling and screaming going on between her three guardians outside. The words themselves were inaudible to her, save a few odd words allowing her to get the gist of the argument, but the malice in the tone of voice was unmistakable. At last the sounds elapsed, and thus Bedivere and Bob and Evelyn did not part on good terms.
Ben, of course, saw Bedivere's departure as a perfect opportunity to give Foxglove a hard time. Things could have been worse, Foxglove reflected, if he had known the full story, for she felt sure that she was to blame for the row her uncle had had with Bob and Evelyn.
"Too bad your uncle went to San Francisco," Ben jeered the following morning, as the young bats prepared to go to sleep for the day. "I guess you'll drive everyone away eventually."
"Please don't," Foxglove said, as boldly as she could. "I'm not in the mood."
This unexpected reply seemed to stump Ben. As he racked his brain (such as it was) for a suitable retort, Foxglove surprised him further by suddenly taking off and venturing out into the approaching sunlight. Without really knowing why, Ben flew after her. He caught her up, and entreated her to stop and talk to him. The landed together on the branch of an oak tree in the graveyard.
"Where are you going?" Ben asked.
"Mind your business."
"You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"
Foxglove suddenly turned upon her companion, hatred burning in her eyes. Ben felt momentarily quite intimidated.
"What do you care?" she demanded. "You've never, ever cared about me! All you've done is made my life miserable!"
"At least tell me where you're going."
Sighing deeply, Foxglove squinted out on to the horizon. Daylight was very nearly upon them, and her vision was beginning to fail her.
"San Francisco," she said at last.
"What? You can't go to San Francisco!"
"I can't stay here."
"But... but... crimety, Foxglove, you're not seven yet! Do you really want to fly all the way to San Francisco, all by yourself?"
"I can't stay here."
Ben considered a moment. He had always wanted Foxglove out of his life, and here she was about to leave it. Why did he feel so bad about letting her go?
"And what? You're going to go at this time of day?"
"If I go in the middle of the night I'm bound to be spotted."
"But why go at all? San Francisco's a big place - you'll never find your uncle, even if you make it all the way there."
"So? There's nothing for me here." Watching the sun come up, Foxglove seemed suddenly to forget whom she was talking to. "Do you know why Bedivere left? He thinks my father might be alive and living in San Francisco."
"Your father? But Foxglove, he hates you."
"I don't care. Whatever I find there can't be much worse than my life here. You wouldn't understand, anyway. You've got a fantastic family, but you've made it perfectly clear that you don't want me in it. Bedivere was the only family I had, and now I might have a father as well. I have to find out."
Ben had no reply for all of this, but Foxglove did not wait for one. He watched her as she disappeared into the horizon, his heart full of mixed emotions: Foxglove was finally leaving. He had always been terrified that she would take his parents from him, and Bedivere's departure had been another step towards this happening. Ben had always tried to keep Foxglove as distant from his parents as possible, and now she was finally out of the picture, but he could not help feeling bad. This was, after all, entirely his fault, and surely a girl as young as Foxglove would never survive the journey to San Francisco all by herself.
Turning round he saw Evelyn heading towards him. Seeing the mother for whom he had so long competed shifted some of the doubt from Ben's mind. She approached him with an absent look on her face, for the previous argument with Bedivere was still on her mind.
"Ben, what are you doing here?" Evelyn said to her son. "You should be asleep by now."
"All right, I'm coming," Ben muttered.
"Have you seen Foxglove?"
Ben sighed deeply, but did not hesitate to answer: "No."
Foxglove flew for miles without stopping, relying only on her ears to guide her. She had a vague idea of the location of San Francisco - she knew that if she continued to fly in a more or less north-westerly direction, she would get there eventually.
Eventually the sun began to creep closer to the horizon. As darkness fell, Foxglove felt a lot more secure but far too exhausted to go on. Her wings stiff and painful from the strain, Foxglove came to rest in the first suitable place she could find, which happened to be some human's garden shed. The window had been somehow broken, so it was easy enough for Foxglove to get inside. Manoeuvring through all of the power tools inside was a different matter, but she was eventually able to settle and go to sleep.
Here Foxglove slept through the night, and through the day as well. She had woken up around dawn and debated whether or not to continue with her journey, but it seemed most logical not to do so: she was exhausted, and very much needed some more sleep, and it would be so much easier for her to fly by night. She had left during daylight hours originally because she was worried about being pursued, but surely she had enough of a head start now to continue without fear of discovery. So the youngster slept on, painful thoughts clouding her dreams. Ben appeared in them more than once, and when Foxglove woke up she swore she had heard her mother's voice, though she could not remember anything about it.
She was awoken the following morning by the sound of voices on the ground. She awoke to see two large white rats squatting on a lawn mower and staring up at her.
"Kid can't be more than seven," said one, a young female. "Wonder what she's doing all on her own up there."
"Ssh..." hissed her male companion. "I think she's awake."
Foxglove stared at them a moment, wondering how she should react. Even if these rats were dangerous, she reflected, they could hardly do much to her from the ground, so she decided to wait and see what happened next.
"Well now, honey, what might you be doin' up there all by yourself?" the female asked kindly.
"I... I'm going to San Francisco," Foxglove replied.
"San Francisco? Well, sweetheart, that's an awful long way for a li'l kid like you to travel. Ain't you got nobody with you?"
"No? But won't your mama and papa be worried about you?"
"I don't have a mama and papa. I'm going to San Francisco to look for my father."
"You think you'll find him?" the male rat asked.
"Maybe, but my uncle's definitely up there."
"Uh... wait here," the female said.
The two rats slid down the smooth sides of the mower and disappeared into some dark corner or other. Foxglove waited obediently until moments later when they came out. The male was the first to speak.
"Listen, kid," he said, "we got a proposition for you, but first let's get acquainted, shall we? I'm Ronnie, and this here's my sister, Susie."
"Good to meet you, Foxglove. Thing is, me and Susie are lookin' for our daddy as well. Last thing we heard he was in Las Vegas, which just happens to be in your direction, so you can come with us as far as there if you like."
Ronnie and Susie waited patiently for a reply. When one did not come, Ronnie spoke again.
"I guess you've had that little talk about strangers, huh?" he went on. "Listen, kid, you'd be safer with us than you would all by yourself. You need someone to look out for you on the way, after all."
"Besides, we ain't strangers no more," Susie put in. "Come on, kid, we're tryin' to do you a favour here."
"All right," Foxglove at last relented. She was not sure exactly how advisable this was, but she felt sure that she would never make the whole journey to San Francisco alone. Cautiously she flew down to get a closer look at her benefactors.
These two certainly looked as though they had been in the wars. Ronnie's tail was by no means all still with him, and some animal or other had scarred his face very badly on the left hand side. Susie had a similar scar across her midriff, and there was a rather disturbing hole in the middle of her right here. Besides these oddities, however, the pair looked very friendly. Foxglove judged them to be about seventeen years of age - though Susie looked slightly younger than her brother.
"How are you guys going to get to Las Vegas?" she asked. "I was planning to fly, but..."
"Yeah, that would produce a problem," Ronnie japed. "But see, Foxglove, we got an alternative way to travel which is even quicker than that. You didn't think we were plannin' on walkin' all the way there, did you?"
"Well, I did wonder."
Laughing heartily, Susie placed a hand on Foxglove's shoulder and ushered her under the door of the shed. Once out she and Ronnie continued to scuttle in whatever direction, Foxglove flying low behind them.
"Where are we going?" she asked Susie.
"You'll see. Ain't life full o' surprises?"
Difficult as it was to keep up with them, what with all of the ducking beneath or scrambling over every obstacle, Foxglove at last found that she had followed Ronnie and Susie to an airport. She did not recognise the place at all, but she could read the sign easily enough, and Bedivere had once told her what an airport was.
"We're going to get a plane to Las Vegas?" she said.
"Clever girl," Ronnie replied. "We're gonna be travellin' in the luggage compartment, so I warn you, it might get a little cramped."
The events in the luggage compartment - such as they were - are scarcely worth repeating. Ronnie and Susie talked to Foxglove for the first hour or so, and Foxglove learnt about their life together in Alabama (marvelling at the thought that they had travelled such a long way already), but they soon grew weary of talking and all three of them dozed off. In this fashion they flew over the remainder of New Mexico and Arizona, and at last they arrived in Las Vegas refreshed.
"You see, kid?" Ronnie said as they crawled out of the dark hole with cramped limbs. "Much faster than you could get here by yourself."
"Where d'you suppose you'll find your daddy?" Foxglove asked.
"Gee, Foxglove, Las Vegas is a pretty big place," Susie said as she came up behind them. "It could take an awful long time. Do you wanna stick with us a little bit longer? We're gonna be searchin' all over, I reckon."
"I guess I could stay with you a little longer," Foxglove said, reluctant now to leave her new friends, "but I should probably get along tomorrow night."
Surprisingly enough, the first place Ronnie and Susie took Foxglove was a casino: "Our pappy liked to gamble some," Susie explained as they went inside. "That's way he came here in the first place. You go play on the fruit machines or somethin'."
Susie knew as well as Foxglove did that the latter had nothing to gamble, but neither she nor Ronnie was too keen on the idea of dragging a seven year old around a casino, so Foxglove watched with interest the countless gamblers losing or gaining fortunes - human and rodent.
During the day Foxglove and the two rats slept uncomfortably in the open. Before they knew it, however, night was upon them, and Foxglove decided that she should be on her way again.
"Goodbye," she said to Ronnie and Susie as she prepared to leave. "I hope you find your dad."
"Ditto," Ronnie said, as he waved her into the air.
"Good luck!" Susie called, and her voice was the last Foxglove ever heard of the duo again. She flew non-stop to the border of California and, once inside, she emitted a great sigh of relief to know that she was at least in the right state.
It was high time for her to rest again, so Foxglove flew into a back alley in search of somewhere to sleep. She settled on a rafter of some building or other, but could not have been there but a few moments before she sensed another bat landing beside her. Obviously she could not see it, but her other senses told her it was a male of about ten years.
"Hey, move over!" he said. "This is my spot!"
"What's goin' on up there, Casey?" came a voice from below. It was the voice of another pre-adolescent teen.
"Some girl is sleepin' in my spot," Casey called back, and with that he pushed Foxglove clear off the beam. For some reason her reflexes failed her and she felt herself landing in a dumpster. There were several other kids in there, all looking at her with great interest. Casey flew down after her and landed by a lanky young mouse.
"So what do you think we should do with her, Tony?" Casey asked mischievously. As the mouse called Tony advanced and two shrews grabbed her shoulders, Foxglove felt absolutely petrified, to say the least.
"So," Tony said, "what were you doin' up there on that rafter?"
"Um... sleeping?" Foxglove was suddenly reminded of Ben, and it amazed her think that she had left him only days ago.
"You can't sleep here," Tony said. "Not without approval, anyways. Ain't you got nowhere else to go?"
"You don't sound like you from around here. Where d'you come from?"
"Texas." Foxglove was too intimidated to do anything but answer truthfully.
"Texas? You mean down in the south? What are you doin' come all the way to California? Did you run away from your folks?"
"I don't have any folks."
"Then what are you doin' here?"
"I'm on my way to San Francisco."
"Ain't nothin' much in San Francisco that ain't around here. What do you expect to find there?"
Foxglove was about to answer when she heard a shout from somewhere. Tony looked round suddenly. Another mouse, this one a girl, was approaching. She looked perhaps a couple of years older than Tony.
"Cut it out, Tony," she said. "Leave the poor kid alone." Then to the two shrews, "Let her go, you guys."
The shrews obediently released Foxglove, and the mouse approached her. She pulled Foxglove to her feet, and regarded her complexion momentarily.
"Listen, don't let Tony bother you," she said. "I'm Tania. Tony's my little brother. Do you got a name?"
"Well, that's a real pretty name. Anyway, like I was sayin', Tony don't got no power round here. You wanna stay with us, you gotta talk to Spike."
"He's in charge around here. He'll interview ya, and if he likes what he hears, you're in. Did you run away from home, did ya?"
"Don't worry, kid. You stick with me 'til Spike gets back. I'll watch none o' these juniors don't give you no grief."
Tania was very soon asleep, but Foxglove could do no such thing. She was wondering about this Spike character. She had very little about him, but somehow he did not sound pleasant. Her wait was not a long one.
Using her echolocation skills, Foxglove deducted that the newcomer was a large rat of about fifteen years. At the sound of his voice Tania stirred and sat up, still half asleep.
"Hey, Spike," she droned.
"Who's the kid?"
"She's new around here. She wants to join our gang."
Foxglove was faintly shocked. She had said no such thing to any of these people - in fact she had even mentioned her intention to go to San Francisco - but on reflection she had not exactly argued Tania's ideas about being approved by their leader. She felt suddenly sick. This Spike was a big fellow; however could she say no to him?
"What's your name?" Spike cut into her thoughts.
"That's a pretty girlie name."
"Well, I am a girl."
"Listen, kid, I don't like my underlings gettin' cocky with me. I ain't never heard that accent before. Where are you from."
"Texas? In the south? Well, you sure come a long way to get away from your folks."
"Shut up. It must ha' took a lot for a little kid like you to come all the way from Texas. Were you on your own?"
"All right, you're in," Spike said, seeming not to hear her, "for now, but you gotta prove yourself before I let you stay."
"Um... all right."
Foxglove regretted these words as she was following Spike out into the street. It was right in the middle of the rush hour, so obviously it was all very busy.
"You got wings," Spike said, as they were crouching behind a trash can. "That's handy. Right now just Casey got wings. All right, you see that grocery store over there?"
"That figures, I guess. You think you could find it?"
"I guess so."
"Good. I want you to go in there and come out with some food - without getting caught," he added.
"Why?" Spike repeated. "We gotta eat, don't we? I won't insult you by explaining why they call these things trash cans. Now, get the hell in that store."
He gave Foxglove what he would probably have called a gentle shove, and she flew off in the vague direction of the store. She was able to locate it easily enough, and she was even able to flit through the open door without being noticed. Very nervy, she wondered just how long her luck would hold out. On reflection, however, she realised that failing the initiation would prohibit her from joining Spike's gang, and she would then be free to continue her journey to San Francisco.
The thought of Spike waiting impatiently for her outside turned Foxglove's attention to the task at hand, and she used echolocation to search the store, wondering what on earth to steal. It would have to be something light, so that she could carry it and still stay in the air. She realised that this eliminated meat, and then remembered that of course all of Spike's underlings were rodents, and therefore vegetarian. Further thought led her to believe that in fact they might eat anything, their circumstances being what they were, and she at once felt more comfortable about the whole thing. Spike had simply said "food", and requested nothing specific, so Foxglove thought that whatever she carried out, it was unlikely to be the wrong thing.
She was hidden safely behind a stack of tinned food for now, but she could tell that the store was pretty full. Foxglove glanced with apprehension behind her. There was certainly nobody there, but there was a shelf full of greens: this, she decided, should be her target.
Hastily, and as silently as she could, the young bat scanned the items on the shelf - true, it did not much matter what she produced, but she did not want to emerge with something encased in packaging that rodent claws and teeth could not penetrate. There seemed to be no such items anyway, so Foxglove just flew blindly towards the shelf and took up in her feet the first thing that she touched. Flying unnoticed out of the store with a single carrot clasped in her souls was something of an anti-climax, but Spike seemed happy enough, and for now that was all that mattered.
"Very good," he said, taking the meagre loot from her as she landed. "It's kind o' small, but that was your first time, and at least you weren't noticed." He patted her heartily on the back, and added with a friendly grin, "Good to have ya, Foxglove."
Being homeless, young and rodents - whose nature, they reasoned, was to steal to survive - Spike's gang did not see their life together as one of crime. In the weeks that followed, Foxglove began to see just how the gang operated. They all looked out for one another, and now that she was "one of them", most of them showed respect and kindness towards the newcomer. True, it was a dangerous life they were leading: they were prone to goodness knows how many diseases, not to mention cats and dogs and, of course humans - but Foxglove began to feel somehow safe, knowing that people older than herself were taking care of her, and in return she was taking care of them; she felt for the first time in her life that she had real friends.
Consequently Foxglove almost forgot her desire to go to San Francisco, although the thought of Bedivere and the possibility of finding her father lingered every day at the back of her mind. Once or twice she considered leaving to continue her journey, but something or other always held her back. She had a home - such as it was - and a family - of sorts, anyway. Tania was always especially good to her, and it was usually her or Spike, with whom Foxglove developed a close friendship, who unwittingly convinced her to stay.
Foxglove stayed with the gang for four years. This is certainly a long time, but it did not seem so to her. Every night was the same; she would steal something or receive stolen food, the gang would share it and perhaps get into one or two scraps, and then they would sleep throughout the day.
What finally persuaded Foxglove to leave was Spike's demise - or mainly that, at any rate. Approaching his twentieth year when it happened, the young rat had got into a fight with a rival gang leader one night. It was dark enough for Foxglove to witness the whole thing. She and Tania had been watching together the two rats tear each other apart. Spike's opponent had retreated, so in a way Spike was the victor, but when Foxglove and Anita hurried to see what condition their leader was in, they had found him lying in the gutter with blood gushing from his right shoulder.
"Spike, speak to me!" Anita had cried, but all she got in return was a croak, and then Spike was dead. To Foxglove's surprise and sorrow he received no memorial.
"So the guy's dead," Casey had reasoned, when she challenged him about it. "It had to happen some time. Happen to all of us eventually - sooner than you think, maybe."
Foxglove at once realised that this was true. She was living dangerously, and now that Spike had gone there seemed little point in her continuing to do so. But where should she go from here? It was dark enough for her to see, and she caught her reflection in a puddle. The last time she had done this, she had seen the face of a little girl staring up at her. She had still to reach eleven years of age, but looking at her withered expression now, she felt that she had aged too quickly. She looked for a while at her reflection. She had often been referred to as pretty, but she could not see beauty in that reflection; instead she saw her uncle's eyes staring dolefully up at her. She turned her head suddenly skyward and looked to the moon.
"Just remember who you are," she heard quite distinctly in her head. "You're a Fairmont, and we don't take nothin' from nobody."
Foxglove looked at the squabbling teenagers below her and emitted a great sigh. Yes, they were not the most wonderful company for a young innocent like her, but she had come to regard them as her family. Still, Bedivere's voice would not stop haunting her, and without a second thought she took off into the sky. It was not long, however, before she began to feel pangs of guilt.
"I promised myself I'd go to San Francisco, and I will," she told herself. "Those guys won't give me another thought. They'll just assume a cat got me or somethin', and carry on with their lives. They won't care about me if they think I'm dead."
We can never know just how true a statement this was, but Foxglove never quite managed to convince herself of it. She took care not to talk to anyone else until she reached San Francisco for fear of getting involved with another such group of people and never reaching her destination. The only memorable even in the weeks that followed was this: Foxglove had stopped to rest on a park bench one night and a newspaper caught her eye. She looked sorrowfully at the date.
"I turned twelve yesterday," she remembered, and was at once reminded that this was the fifth birthday she had missed. "I wonder if anyone back home in Texas remembered." For the first time in a long time her thoughts turned to Bob and Evelyn, but she at once dismissed them with a shake of the head and took to the air once again.
For a few more nights she flew, and for a few more days she slept, but at last Foxglove arrived in San Francisco. Once there she felt a sensation of relief, but was somewhat at a loss when trying to decide what to do next. How was she begin to try and find her uncle? She thought for a moment, and decided that the logical thing to do first would be to try and find herself somewhere to stay. The sun was beginning to kiss the sky, and she would certainly either have to get some sleep or collapse from exhaustion. She slept in the open that night. She struggle to sleep against the bitter cold, but at last her exhaustion overtook her and she did not stir until nightfall.
Waking up the next evening, Foxglove felt suddenly lonely. She then realised that she had made only the first and last leg of her journey alone, and she wondered if she would ever survive here all by herself. Bats, as we know, are not at home near the coast, and Foxglove was no different. She felt frightened, helpless and - most of all - lonely. She had to find someone to stay with, be it her Uncle Bedivere or no. She flew instinctively to the first bats she could find, and ended up in some kind of youth club. She did not much like the look of the place, but decided it was better in here than the outside world, and so she wandered inside and took a seat by the bar. She knew that any minute someone would come up to her and ask her for an order, but she was not sure where else she should be.
Sure enough, a barman in his early twenties approached. Foxglove did not know quite what to say to him, but fortunately she was rescued by a boy of about sixteen years. The lad took the unoccupied seat next to hers and signalled for the barman's attention. He was jet black in colour, with long hair tied back in a pony tail.
"Just like, get her an orange juice, man," he said to the barman, and then to Foxglove, "You're new around here, ain't ya."
"You look like, awful young to be wandering around here on your own," the other bat continued. "How old are you, anyway?"
"Wow! Is that all? I thought you'd be like, older than that! Did you run away from home?"
"Talkative, ain't ya," the lad said, flashing her a smile. "The name's Alfie. Do you got a name, kiddo?"
"Cute. You're totally younger than the rest of the guys here. We're all like, at least - I dunno - fourteen?"
"I didn't really have anywhere else to go."
"Don't sweat it, Foxglove. You can stay with me and my friends. After all, what difference does one more make?"
Wary, but reluctant to refuse any offer of help, Foxglove went home with Alfie. He and five other hippies - two shrews, one rat and three mice - were camping on the floor of a vacant apartment. They ranged between the ages of fourteen and nineteen. Both the shrews were female. The rat and mice were male, and it interested Foxglove to see that the two mice wore flowers in their hair. You'd never catch a boy doing that back home, she said.
"Hey, guys," Alfie said upon entry. "This here's Foxglove. She's going to be staying with us for a few days."
The five rodents acknowledged her presence with a nod. Alfie invited her to sit on the sacking they were using as a sofa.
"I thought all of the hippies died out when I was little," Foxglove said in an attempt to break the ice.
"Hey, this is like, San Francisco, man," the older of the two mice said. "In San Francisco, the hippie era, like, never dies."
"Ok," Foxglove replied, warily.
"Hey, that's a cool name you got," the rat complimented her. "Did you like, come up with it yourself as a stand against, like, war and everything?"
"No. It's just the name my foster parents gave me."
"All parents suck," one of the shrews said. "When I ran away from home, my parents were like, totally out of it. I mean, I was only smoking cannabis. What's their big problem? It's my body, I can do whatever the hell I want with it."
"You said it," the other shrew agreed. "They have, like, no idea about us."
Foxglove felt suddenly uncomfortable, especially when it came to her attention that the mice and shrews were all over each other. She had heard something about this "free love" that hippies believed in - this must be it.
"Hey, have you ever smoked pot?" Alfie asked suddenly, after several minutes of sitting in silence.
"Foxglove, you totally have to try it. It's like, the best feeling ever."
Poor, passive Foxglove. The minute Alfie had spoken his friends were all producing cannabis from every nook and cranny, and Foxglove found herself joining in this sudden drug fest. She did not like it one bit, but she could see no other option for herself; it was either Alfie and his friends, or solitude.
They seemed to be awake day and night, sleeping whenever it suited them. A lot of their time was consumed with talking nonsense, smoking or sitting cross-legged and "reflecting on the oppressions of like, everyday life and stuff". Foxglove really thought they should find something to do with themselves, but she could see no point in saying so. Besides, she did have something to do, and nobody else really mattered.
Every night she would go out in search of Bedivere. Each time she searched she had no success, and was soon thinking about admitting failure. One night she decided to try looking for her father, having asked every soul she could find about her uncle.
"A few years back there was this guy hanging around," she said to an old lady squirrel on a park bench one night. "A woman called Denise came and told us about him. He was a total screw-up, from what I heard."
"Sorry, honey, but there are a lot of screw-ups around here," the squirrel replied unhelpfully. "You'll never find who you're looking for. Take it from someone who knows."
Six months had passed since Foxglove had arrived in San Francisco - she could not believe she had been searching so long. Most likely, she reflected, Bedivere had found this man, discovered that he was not his brother and taken off again. Perhaps he had gone home to Texas, but no matter how hard she tried Foxglove could not persuade herself to go back there. The easiest thing for her to do was to stay with Alfie and his friends, and so she did. Here at least was companionship - even some security.
As Foxglove was drifting off to sleep one morning, she wondered if this was really the best she could do with her life. She lived with five idle teenagers, and she spent her time either doing nothing or things that she hated. As her thirteenth birthday approached her looks began to improve still further, and it was not long before Alfie was inflicting his free love views upon her. Since he had seen her at the youth club he had taken a shine to her, and now he was making moves that the unfortunate Foxglove had not the will to resist. It came to a point where she hated even to be in the same room as him, but passive as she was, she very often found herself in the same bed.
"I have to get away from him," she murmured to herself as she was foraging for food one night. "I don't care how on my own I'll be; I can't stand living with that creep any more. Besides, all of that cannabis can't be good for me."
So Foxglove stayed with Alfie only two years. That very nice she flew as far away from him as she could, wherever the wind took her. She found, when she came to rest, that she had flown some way from the coast, and this was a relief to her - she had not liked it there at all.
Exhausted, Foxglove was resting on the limb of a tree and trying to decide what on earth she should do next, when she heard someone calling her name. Turning and glancing across the limb of the tree, she saw a familiar face.
"Ben?" She could scarcely believe it, but opposite her on the tree branch was none other than Ben Porch.
"Foxglove!" Ben said again. "My God, you're beautiful!"
"Uh... thanks." Foxglove was quite unable to react to the situation, the shock of seeing her old enemy being too much for her.
Ben's looks had improved also. He had filled out, as it was always assumed that he would, and his good looks were no longer concealed by zits and pimples.
"I can't believe it's really you," Ben went on. "Mom and Dad were really worried about you."
"You didn't tell them where I was going?"
"Not at first. The truth is, I didn't want them to find you. They looked all over for you, and when I saw just how worried they were I told them where you went. They were really mad at me, but then they went straight to San Francisco to look for you. They didn't find you there, though."
"I didn't go for a bit. I only got there two years ago."
"They found Bedivere there, and they told him you were missing, then when they couldn't find you in the next few months... well, they think you're dead."
"Huh. It's probably for the best."
"Oh, incidentally, the guy wasn't your father."
"I never really thought he would be."
"Look, Foxglove..." Ben edged closer to her. "I... I'm sorry I caused you so much angst when we were kids."
"Hey, it's all in the past," Foxglove said. She had by no means forgiven him, but she felt sure he was genuinely sorry and she did not want even Ben Porch to feel bad.
"I can explain," he went on. "I know this is no excuse, but... I was afraid."
"You were afraid?" Foxglove suddenly felt years of anger bursting within her. "How do you think I felt? I had no family, and you..." She could not go on.
"You had my family."
"No, Ben, I didn't. You never let me near your family. You wanted them all to yourself."
"You're right, Foxglove, I did want them all to myself. I was afraid that you'd take them away from me."
"Well, that's just silly."
"I know that now." Ben was edging still closer. "And then, when they called off the search..."
He never completed this last sentence. Instead he leaned across in Foxglove's direction and kissed her passionately. Foxglove wanted to resist, but she found herself frozen. When Ben finally withdrew, neither one of them could think of anything to say to the other.
"What are you going to do now?" Ben asked, after a considerable pause.
"I don't know. I thought about going home, but..." She tailed off.
"Mom and Dad would be pleased to see you."
"Do you know where Bedivere went?"
"Not really. He said something about a ranch, I think, but he didn't talk to me after... what happened. He gave me this, though," and Ben displayed to Foxglove a scar down his right flank.
"Wow. Uncle Bedivere did that?"
"I don't think it was entirely deliberate." He paused, as if reflecting on this last statement. "After Mom and Dad found didn't find you, they sent me off to boarding school in the hopes that I'd be disciplined there."
"It seems to have worked miracles on you." Foxglove was grateful for his kindness, but she was unable to bring herself to look him in the eye.
"I didn't like it there, so I ran away a couple o' days ago," Ben went on. "I don't really know where I'm goin' or what I'm doin' either."
"You should probably go home."
"Are you kidding? Mom and Dad would never have me back! Look, Foxglove, I'm squatting in a church belfry until I decide what to do with myself. There are no other bats there and it gets kind o' lonely during the day. Do you wanna stay with me?"
In fairness to Ben, he certainly seemed to have changed. Foxglove was reluctant to go to this empty church belfry with him, but it was surely the only offer of help she was going to get. She thought quickly: morning would soon be upon them, and she definitely needed somewhere to stay. In the end she relented, and so Ben led her to his church.
The building was a grotty one, to say the least. Foxglove wondered if humans really still worshipped here. She asked Ben.
"Yes, absolutely," he said. "It's kind of old and crappy, ain't it. They come in here Sunday mornings, though, and do whatever they do."
Foxglove felt uncomfortable with him, especially after the rather lengthy kiss he had thrust upon her. Still, he seemed to be keeping his distance now, having chosen to settle in a spot several yards from her. Foxglove wanted to go to sleep straight away, but Ben insisted on talking further.
"I reckon you should go find your uncle," he said. "Maybe I'll go with you. If he sees that you've forgiven me:-"
"I never said that," Foxglove interrupted.
"Oh, come on, Foxglove, I can't apologise enough," Ben pleaded. "Please, give me a chance."
"Maybe I will look for Uncle Bedivere," Foxglove said, half to herself. "I guess I could take you with me, and - you know - see how we go."
Ben edged cautiously towards her. He had sensed her displeasure at the kiss earlier, and now he sensed her uneasiness as he approached. He stopped by her side, leaned over her and kissed her gently on the cheek. Foxglove was somewhat taken aback.
"I'd like that very much," he said. "Please try and find it in your heart to forgive me, Foxglove."
Ben slept like a baby, but Foxglove was awake most of the day thinking - mainly about Ben. Here seemed a perfect opportunity for companionship, security and co-dependency, but she could not forget that this was the same spotty faced kid who had isolated her from her foster parents and in whose shadow she had lived for seven years of her life. How on earth was she to react to this sudden chance? She got to wondering if Ben was even genuine - he might be using her for... well, something. She found it very hard to believe that anyone could change this much.
Foxglove finally got to sleep about four o'clock in the evening. Consequently she felt very groggy when she awoke in the night - so much so that she did not notice Ben staring at her.
"Hi," she murmured, trying to remember where she was and indeed to whom she was talking.
"Hey," Ben replied cheerily. "You look a little rough."
"I didn't get very much sleep last night."
"Too bad. Have a little bit more if you want it - I'm just going out to get something to eat. Do you want me to bring you something back?"
"Would you mind?"
"Not at all."
After Ben had left Foxglove dozed, her thoughts wandering to goodness knows where. Once or twice she re-lived in her head some of her previous encounters with Ben, and she felt anger welling up inside her. Then the new and improved Ben returned and graciously offered Foxglove a grub.
"Thanks," she said, grudgingly accepting the offer.
"Is something the matter?" Ben asked.
"Well, I was just thinking about when we were kids, and you made my life Hell and everything. What changed, Ben?"
"I did... I grew up."
There was something not quite right about all of this. Ben was only fourteen, but he was acting like a thirty-year-old. Foxglove very much wondered if he was up to something, but she concluded that she should be safe enough for now as long as she was careful.
The two bats lived together in the old church belfry for some weeks before making any decisions as to what either of them should do next. During this time Ben's intentions to get into some sort of relationship situation with Foxglove became ever more apparent, and she wondered what exactly she should do. Ben had seemingly become an ok guy, but still Foxglove could not see beyond the boy who had bullied her as a little girl. He used to kiss her and caress her sometimes, and she would let him, but she was not at all happy about it.
"Foxglove, I want to go home," Ben said to her one day. "I haven't seen my parents for... I can't even remember."
"I thought you said they wouldn't take you back."
"They wouldn't... unless you came with me."
"What good can I do?"
"Foxglove, you're the only reason they disowned me in the first place! Now look, I'm not blaming you, but if you came with me, they could see that you've forgiven me, and if they can see that, they'll forgive me too. You... you have forgiven me, haven't you?"
"I don't know," Foxglove sighed. "You seem to have changed, but you're still... you're still Ben."
"I keep telling you, I've changed," Ben went on pleadingly. "Anyway, if you hate me so much, why d'you stay with me?"
"I don't know," Foxglove said again. "Security, I guess. I... I can't stand being on my own."
"You'd rather be with someone you hate than on your own?"
"Probably, yes, but I don't hate you. I don't know how I feel about you, but going home with you... I couldn't. That place, it just..."
"Ssh..." Ben said coaxingly, putting a wing on her shoulder. "I understand how you feel about that place, and I know that's my fault. I can't tell you how sorry I am, but... look, don't you want to see Mom and Dad? It'll give you a chance to get to know them, and explain exactly why you took off, and... and show them that you've forgiven me."
At once Foxglove realised exactly what this Mr. Nice Guy act was all about: Ben had been afraid that she would isolated him from his parents but had brought it on himself, and now he wanted to use her to get them back.
Ben was looking dolefully into her eyes. How could she say no? She knew exactly what Ben was like, but somehow she could not say no to anybody - Alfie being a prime example. Besides, she reflected, what Ben had said was absolutely true; there was nothing she wanted more than to get to know her foster parents - except perhaps to see her uncle - and here was the perfect opportunity.
"All right," she said at last. "I'll go home with you."
Clearly the journey was a long one, and a very stressful one for Foxglove: she knew now that Ben was using her, and what he was using her for, and still he thrust his lust upon her. He was taking advantage of her in more ways than one, and she felt powerless against him.
At last Foxglove and Ben arrived at the familiar church in Texas. To both of them it brought memories flooding back, all of which were painful. They hung around outside for a bit, unable to make eye contact - this was uncomfortably familiar.
At last they flew into the belfry, only to find it empty of bats - apart from two, that is.
"Ben!" Bob Porch flew out of the darkness and landed by his son. He embraced him briefly, and burst into tears.
"Where is everyone?" Ben asked.
"Oh, Ben," Bob went on, seemingly heedless of his son's question. "You have no idea how long we've been waiting for you to come home. When the school said you were missing... Good lord, Foxglove?"
"Hey, Bob," Foxglove replied. "It's me all right."
"We thought you were dead."
"I know. Ben told me what happened, and I want you to know that... I forgive him." She was lying through her teeth, but she could not stand to see poor Bob in this state.
"Good," Bob said. "Then I forgive you too, son."
"Dad," Ben interjected, "where is everyone? What happened here?"
"Disease. I don't know what exactly, but... everybody either died or left."
"Then what in God's name are you still doin' here?"
"Waiting for you."
"Oh, Dad." Ben embraced his father, and then a lone figure at the back of the belfry caught his eye. He recognised her instantly, and she seemed in a very sorry state.
"Mom!" Ben hurried over to her. She was dozing, but she woke up when she heard her son's voice.
"Ben," she croaked. "Thank God. We've been waiting for you."
"Oh, Mom, why have you been waiting for me? You should have gotten away while you could." He turned to his father with desperation in his eyes. "Is she going to make it?"
"I don't think so, son."
"Ben shook his head. "No!"
For some reason, Foxglove felt unable to stay. It may be that she could not cope with the devastation, but she knew subconsciously that feelings from the past were haunting her once again; she had always felt that she had been a gooseberry among that family, and again she felt that her presence was unwelcome. Tears in her eyes, she left the unhappy scene and flew blindly for some time - she had to get away form that church.
It was near the break of day when Foxglove came to rest. All the time she flew not a thought entered her head, but hanging on a tree branch she felt guilty about the haste with which she had left. Ok, so she was not related to them by blood, but those people were by rights just as much her parents as they were Ben's. Why did she let herself think like this?
"Don't let anybody else run your life, and always stick up for yourself," she heard again, quite clearly, inside her head. "Will you promise me that?"
"Yes," she said aloud, without really meaning to, then she sighed deeply and said, "I have to find him."
Foxglove was about to doze off when she heard voices coming from nearby. Normally she would have ignored them, but something within her compelled her to listen.
"Would you look at that? It's dawn!" one of them said angrily. "Man, Freddie's gonna kill us!"
"We can't go on looking in broad daylight," the other said, sorrowfully (or so it seemed to Foxglove).
"I know that! We're just gonna have to go back to Freddie and admit that we failed... again."
Echolocation told Foxglove quite distinctly that here were a snake and a spider. Suddenly unable to control her body, Foxglove found herself following them "back to Freddie". Who or what Freddie was she could not tell, but she could certainly hear what she had to say to the snake and the spider. It was all very unpleasant and not worth dwelling on, but in short she rebuked them both and sent them to "at least find some rosehip before I change my mind about punishing you".
"Well now, what have we here?" this Freddie character said, noticing Foxglove for the first time. As she approached Foxglove scanned her quickly, and was astonished to learn that she was human.
"A bat, eh?" the woman went on, and she (somewhat boldly) took Foxglove's left wing in her finger and stretched it out to its full span. "Hmm... this might be useful for some spell or other. She's a little young, though. What are you doing here?"
"Are you a witch?" Foxglove hazarded, not quite sure if this character could understand her.
"I might be. What's that to you?"
"Please don't let's beat about the bush. Are you a witch or aren't you?" Foxglove thought this was the boldest thing she had said to anyone.
"All right, I am. What do you want?"
"I need your help."
"Oh, do you now?"
"Yes. My... um... friend is very sick. It doesn't look good. Is there anything at all you can do for her? I'll pay you, of course."
"You'll pay me? How?"
"I... I don't know," Foxglove replied miserably. "Is there anything you want?"
"I've already said that your wing would be of use to me."
"Oh. But... I need that."
"Yes, I suppose you do. I'll tell you what, my dear: there's something I'm after, which my two little stooges seem unable to retrieve. Now, you have a good eye for the dark - not to mention that other extraordinary sense of yours. I'm sure you would have no trouble retrieving it for me."
"I'll do anything."
"Very well. Get this for me, and I shall see what I can do about your friend."
"Absolutely not. She doesn't have much time left, and I'm not doing anything for you until I can see she's better."
"Fair enough," the woman replied grudgingly, and she left the room momentarily. She returned with a small bottle in one hand and some kind of collar in the other. She handed Foxglove the bottle.
"Give a small amount of this to your friend - how small isn't too important," she said. "It stinks, I know, but it will cure her. This," holding the small collar on the end of one finger, "is to ensure that you keep your word."
"I wouldn't break it."
"I can't know that."
"I guess you can't," Foxglove relented.
She waited patiently as the witch fastened the maroon collar around her neck.
"What exactly does it do?" she asked.
"It will bring you straight back here after you have given that concoction to your friend. If you try to fly anywhere else in the meantime, it won't let you."
"I can't thank you enough," Foxglove said, as she prepared to leave.
"You can," the witch assured her as the young bat took off, "and you will."
"Hey, Winifred," the spider said, scuttling back into the room, "is that bat gonna find the four leafed clover for you?"
"She certainly is."
"I still don't think you'll find any around here."
"Lou, there is definitely one around here somewhere or my spell book is a big fat liar."
"Well, that thing is pretty old," Lou reminded her. "It could have died."
"It is a magical object. Magical objects do not die."
"or someone else could have taken it."
"Yes, I suppose that's possible," Winifred conceded. "Well, I guess we'll find out."
Bob and Ben watched anxiously as Foxglove tipped a small amount the mixture down the ever weakening Evelyn's neck.
"Are you sure that's enough?" Bob asked.
"Are you sure it's not too much?" Ben put in. "I can't believe you're giving her that stuff when you don't even know what it is."
"It can't make her any worse, Ben, she's dying," Foxglove reasoned. "Besides, I know it'll work."
"Where did you get it, anyway?"
"Never you mind. That's not important."
They all looked to Evelyn, who was sleeping peacefully now. Her breathing was normal, her face was relaxed and she showed no signs of suffering. Foxglove satisfied herself that she was all right and then felt a slight burn in her neck. Almost involuntarily, she took off and exited the belfry. Ben instantly flew after her and called her name, so the mysterious collar allowed her to stop briefly.
"I'm sorry I doubted you," Ben said. "That stuff has worked miracles... whatever it is."
"I'm in a little bit of a hurry, Ben," was the only reply he got.
"Are you coming back?"
"Sure I am. There's just something I kind o' have to take care of first."
"Ok. So... what's with the collar?"
"Nothing," and with that Foxglove left.
She had no idea how long she had been flying or how far she had gone before, but the collar freed her from any responsibility of finding her way back and she found the journey a surprisingly long one. She arrived at last, however, her wings aching and her brain exhausted. She was not at all sure she could cope with whatever this witch had planned for her.
"I want you to fetch for me a four leafed clover," the witch told her, once the collar had been removed and Foxglove had asked with what she had been charged.
"A four leafed clover?" Foxglove repeated. "Are you sure there are any around here?"
"If I'm honest, not entirely, but my spell book says that there is one and unless someone else has gotten to it first, there must be one, and you have to find it for me tonight."
"I'll certainly try," Foxglove promised, and she left. She searched until about one o'clock and, to her surprise, she found exactly what she was looking for. It was very close to where the witch's snake and spider had been searching the previous morning.
"Unbelievable," Foxglove marvelled as she carried her find knack to its destination. "There was one after all. How could they miss it?"
She handed the small plant over to Winifred and in turn was freed from the maroon collar. She asked Winifred exactly what the four leafed clover was for, worried that she might have played a vital part in some evil or malicious scheme, but Winifred told her nothing, so she went back to the church to see how Evelyn was doing.
To Foxglove's immense relief, she found Evelyn awake with her son and her husband fussing around her. She was pleased to see her long lost foster daughter, having not really taken in her presence during her previous state. She asked Foxglove to tell her exactly what had happened to her in the past eight years. Foxglove was happy to outline the goings on in her recent past, but she did not tell her quite everything.
"I'm so glad you've forgiven Ben," Evelyn said, after a brief pause in the conversation.
"Yes," was all Foxglove managed to say. She had far from forgiven Ben, but she wanted Bob and Evelyn to believe otherwise, for their sakes - and, in some strange way, even for Ben's.
She did not stay long. Bob and Evelyn were most insistent that she should stay as long as possible, but Foxglove was not at all comfortable living with them and Ben. Perhaps if there was still a colony living there she might have been convinced to stay, but as it was she was not at all happy, and announced about three days later that she was going to leave. Once again Ben followed her so far - a habit which was becoming to Foxglove somewhat tedious.
"What do you want this time?" she asked irritably.
"I... I want you to stay."
"You want me to what?"
"I want you to stay," Ben repeated. "Please don't leave because of me."
"Look, Ben, I may hate your guts, but I'm not leaving because of you. I really have to find my uncle."
"Then you haven't really forgiven me."
"No. I came close, but I guess you really haven't changed."
"I have!" Ben was most insistent. "I never wanted to hurt you... at least not this time. I... I'm sorry."
"Ben, please, I've heard it all before." Foxglove had grown quite tired of him, and was anxious to get going.
"I know you don't think I'm genuine."
"Darn right I don't."
"But I am. Maybe you think I'm using you again, but honestly, Foxglove, what would I need you for now?"
"You tell me."
"Please." Ben ventured closer and put his wings on her shoulders. "If you leave I... I'll miss you."
"We both know perfectly well what you'll miss, and it won't be me." She shook herself free of him. "Don't sweat it, Ben, there's plenty more fish in the sea."
She turned to leave, but Ben pursued her father and called her name.
"What?" Foxglove demanded impatiently, hovering in mid-air.
"He's in Ohio."
"Your uncle has a ranch in Ohio."
"I see. And you knew this all along?"
"Damn it, Ben, why the hell didn't you tell me?" Foxglove suddenly exploded.
"You know why."
"Yes, I know why. You needed me here. Well, thanks for coming through eventually." There was more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice. "I won't miss you."
Ben flew closer, and for some reason Foxglove did not move. He had been going to kiss her on the lips, but thought better of it and went instead for the cheek.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Sure you are."
With that Foxglove turned her back on Ben Porch, dearly hoping that she would never see him again. Her journey to Ohio was long but uneventful. She felt very much alone, but had learnt that making friends was not all it was cracked up to be.
Finding Bedivere's ranch was the work of a few hours. Upon arrival, however, Foxglove deducted that finding Bedivere would not be so easy. The place was small enough compared to most of the distances she had travelled, but still pretty enormous and somewhat full. Still, Foxglove reflected, Uncle Bedivere had always stood out in a crowd, and she flew down to mingle.
The kinds of people she was mixing with here, Foxglove was unused to, to say the least. Her discomfort clearly showed, for she was getting some rather strange looks. One somewhat elderly gentleman at last took pity on the poor girl. He approached, and said, "What's the matter, honey, you lost?"
"You could say that," Foxglove replied.
"I figured as much. You're a li'l young to be wanderin' around here all by yourself."
"Actually I'm looking for someone. Perhaps you could help me."
"I'll wager I can. I know most folks 'round here, li'l lady. Who is it you're lookin' for, then?"
"My uncle." It then occurred to Foxglove that this fellow was unlikely to know who her uncle was. "Um... his name is Bedivere Fairmont."
"Is that so? As it happens, sweetheart, I just might be able to help you," and he smiled encouragingly at his young companion. "Come with me."
Foxglove was only too glad to do so. It looked very much as if she was going to be reunited with her uncle at long last.
They found Bedivere a few acres short of where they had found one another. He was clinging on to a prairie dog for dear life, for the latter seemed somewhat agitated. Foxglove could not believe her eyes when she saw him, and she wondered just how long she would be able to contain herself.
"Hey, Bedivere!" her benefactor called, joculantly. "What is this, a mechanical bull riding contest?"
"Don't start!" Bedivere called back. "I don't know what's gotten into her!"
As had to happen eventually, Bedivere at last lost his balance and went tumbling to the ground. Foxglove panicked momentarily, but Bedivere was able to pick himself up with ease.
"Dang!" he cried, as he watched the unhappy prairie dog charging off to goodness knows where.
"Jeez, Bedivere, what did you do to that animal?" the elderly bat said.
"Beats me, Jimmy," Bedivere began, turning round to face his friend. "I just hope it ain't somethin'..." He stopped short when he beheld Foxglove standing by Jimmy. He could hardly believe his eyes.
"You got a visitor," Jimmy went on, crushing the atmosphere somewhat.
"Foxglove?" Bedivere did not dare to believe it. The girl looked straight back at him and nodded tearfully and then, unable to keep any more distance between them, she threw herself into his wings and he crushed her in a hearty embrace.
"How did you find me?" Bedivere later asked Foxglove, after he had fed her and she had had a good rest.
"Ben told me where you were."
"Did he now?" Bedivere sounded suddenly hostile, but Foxglove knew perfectly well towards whom his malice was intended.
"I think he's been punished enough, Uncle Bedivere. From what I saw you gave him quite a hiding."
"Oh, that," and Bedivere chuckled unintentionally. "Just so you know, I was only aimin' for a scratch." There was a pause. "I'm sorry, Foxglove."
"For leaving. If I'd known how miserable you really were, I never would 'a' done it."
"I guess I should have told you what was going on, but Ben... well, never mind about Ben. Why didn't you take me with you?"
"I knew I'd have to tell you why we were goin'. and I didn't think you could handle the disappointment if it wasn't your dad. But I guess, lookin' back, I should have taken you along. When it turned out that the guy wasn't Galahad, I came straight back, but you'd already gone."
"I know all about that," Foxglove assured him. "I guess I shouldn't have taken so long to get to San Francisco."
"Hey, there are a lot o' things that shouldn't ha' happened. Your mom and dad shouldn't have died, and Ben shouldn't have made you miserable, and you should have been honest with me, and I shouldn't have left. I think Bob and Evelyn could 'a' done a lot more too."
"Well, Ben is their son," Foxglove reminded him.
"I guess. Do you know what's goin' on back there?"
Foxglove recounted the recent events back in Dallas. Bedivere was somewhat disappointed that he had not got to hear of the outbreak of disease.
"I don't understand why they didn't leave while they still could," he said.
"I suppose they just didn't want to leave their birth place," was Foxglove's only reply; for some reason she did not want to get Ben into her uncle's bad books any more than he already was.
Foxglove stayed with Bedivere on his ranch for some time, helping out whenever she could. By chance she got to meet a boy of about her own age just before she reached sixteen years of age. His name was Alex. He was very good looking, not to mention charming, and Foxglove took a shine to him immediately. Since Alfie and Ben she had been wary of boyfriends, but when Alex asked her out on a date she felt that she could not really refuse.
They went to a very classy restaurant a few miles from the ranch. Foxglove enjoyed herself immensely; Alex was wonderful company. He started by telling her she looked "totally awesome", and it was uphill since then.
"Bedivere never told us he had a niece," Alex said over dinner.
"Well, he thought I was dead by the time he got here." Foxglove instantly wished that she had said anything but that.
"Oh..." Not surprisingly, Alex was a little stumped. "Um... how do you like the ranch?"
"I love the ranch! The ranch is fantastic!"
"Really? We all kind o' like it, but I think you're the only person who actually loves it. You even like the work?"
"It's nice to be busy. I've never really done anything like it before, but it's... it's great. I really like working with my uncle."
"Yeah, I guess he's pretty cool."
The conversation went on similarly. Foxglove had never felt so special. She had never been talked to in this manner before, and when Alex kissed her goodnight she even found that she enjoyed it. They continued to see each other for a few months, and Foxglove grew very close to her new boyfriend. Soon she was telling him things that she could not even tell her uncle.
"Alfie sounds like a jerk," Alex said one night, after Foxglove had told him about her life in San Francisco. Their relationship was about three months old, and now they were star gazing, having just returned from the sixteenth birthday party of one of Alex's friends. Both were somewhat under the influence of alcohol.
"Alfie was a jerk," Foxglove said sleepily, her head in Alex's lap. "I can't believe I fell for all of his lip."
"Hey, you were young. You couldn't have known any better." Alex was now caressing her gently. "I'd never lie to you like that."
"I'm sure you wouldn't."
Alex pulled her up to his level and kissed her tenderly. In the past, during moments such as these with Alex, Foxglove had felt flash backs to Ben or Alfie and had to push him away and insist on going home, but now it felt somehow different, and she let him do whatever he wanted. This, she felt sure, was love.
For some time after that night, Alex and Foxglove continued as usual. She was as happy as she felt possible, and the following morning she made a split second decision never to leave the ranch. However, about a week later, Alex grew more distant and spent less time with Foxglove - and in whatever time he did spend with her, he was far from his usual charming self. Worried, Foxglove went to a middle aged bat called Eliza, whom she had some time ago befriended, for advice.
"Oh, honey, listen," she had said, "never fall for smooth talk like that again."
"What do you mean?"
"They're all the same, Foxglove, including your Alex. He made you believe that he was genuine and you fell for it, but now he's grown tired o' ya, so all you are to him now is another name on his hit list - and believe me, honey, you ain't the first. Alex may be young, but he's all man in that department."
Foxglove did not want to believe what she was hearing. Still, Alex seemed to show little or no more interest in her, and she got to wondering what other explanation there could be. Her suspicions were confirmed when she heard him asking out another girl, this one relatively new as she had been.
"You look totally awesome," Foxglove heard him say.
"Oh God," was the only sentence she could muster, and she at once rebuked herself for her stupidity. Why, after all, should Alex be any different from every other man? Soon afterwards she had been about to challenge him about what she had heard, but he managed to have the first the first word.
"I don't think we should see each other any more," he said.
"You don't?" Good come back! she added silently.
"No. See, Foxglove, I've had a great time with you and everything, but I think it's time to move on. I realise you're upset right now, but I know when you've had time to think it over, you'll understand."
So that was it. Foxglove felt all of the usual emotions: hatred, heart-break, bitterness... and then she decided that she could stay there no longer. She loved working on the ranch, and being with her uncle, but seeing Alex with a new girl every week was more than she could bare. Bedivere was heart-broken when he heard her decision, and he did his utmost to convince her to stay.
"You'll get over him soon enough," he said. "C'me on, Foxglove. Only a few weeks ago you were tellin' me how happy you were here."
"And so I was," Foxglove replied, "but I can't stay here."
"Where are you gonna go?"
"I don't know. I'll find somewhere." She was feeling any number of emotions, and she could not bare to look upon her beloved uncle's countenance any longer. She embraced him, said "I promise I'll keep in touch," and then took to sky once again. It felt very familiar, and the last few times she had done this it had led to misery. On reflection perhaps staying with her uncle would have been the best thing for her, but something within her kept her from turning back.
Foxglove soon realised that for some extraordinary reason she was heading back to Dallas. She stopped instantly, deciding at once that she could never go back there, and she changed direction. She did not care where she ended up, as long as it was somewhere she was not known.
Days later she arrived in New York. During her flight she had hardly known in which direction she was going, but obviously her final destination was instantly recognisable. Upon arrival she had no idea what she should do next, so she did nothing.
In due course Foxglove began to realise that she was pregnant. She cried for hours. She could not cope with a baby, but what on earth could she do? She had heard that some would-be doctors had somewhat dangerous methods of abortion which they would invoke for a small fee, or on reflection she could probably perform such an operation on herself, but such thoughts were not in her head for long. She did not want this child, but she knew that trying to abort it in such a manner was too dangerous an idea even to entertain. What should she do, then? It seemed to her that she had two options left; go back to her uncle's ranch for his help, and perhaps approach the father, or go back to Dallas. She rejected the first idea - she felt quite unable to face Alex. The second option seemed momentarily a good one; Bob and Evelyn would certainly help her to take care of a young one. But what about Ben?
"Yeah, good one. Why don't you just go to San Francisco and live with Alfie?" she murmured to herself. She wanted to cry again, but no tears would come.
Lost in her misery, Foxglove flew until she reached Central Park. She came to rest on the limb of a tree where she found herself thinking further about this problem. She soon realised that she was thinking in circles; she could not have this baby, for its sake and for her own, but there was no solution. She soon came to the conclusion that she would have to have it, and cope as best she could. She realised, of course, that she would not be able to cope at all - she was sixteen years old and all on her own. She was on the verge of making a decision to go back to Ohio, when she heard familiar voices from somewhere on the ground. At first she could not place them, but as she listened further she began to realise to whom these voices belonged: the assistants of the witch who had sold her the potion which rescued Evelyn from her illness.
A glint of hope still remaining, Foxglove flew in the direction of the voices. Her eye-sight was poor even in darkness, but she could see well enough and felt not the need to use echolocation. Very soon she glimpsed the two figures, milling around very much in the open. She rocketed towards them and landed by the snake, who was clearly startled by her sudden approach.
"Hey!" he cried out, and was immediately nudged by Lou as a rebuke for the sheer volume of this outburst. "What do you think you're doing, sneaking up on me like that?" he demanded, more quietly this time.
"Sorry to have startled you," Foxglove murmured apologetically. "You don't remember me, do you."
The snake admitted that he had not the faintest idea who he was, and grudgingly he protruded his tongue and tasted the air around her in the hopes of getting a clue. She was certainly familiar, but before he could place her the spider spoke for the first time.
"I remember you," he said. "You're the kid who got the four leafed clover for Freddie. What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question," Foxglove returned. "You guys were somewhere in Texas the last time I saw you."
"Yeah, well, Freddie thought she could do a lot more damage in the Big Apple," Lou said. "Anyway, why am I explaining myself to you? Do you want something from us?"
"Actually, now that I've found you, I could really use your help again."
"Why should we help you?" the snake demanded suspiciously.
"I think we should let your mistress decide that one, don't you? Please, I'm desperate. Could you take me to her?"
The duo relented, and started making their way back to Winifred. Foxglove found their movements intolerably slow, and solid ground beneath her feet something of an obstacle, but she was able to stay patient until she was finally standing before Winifred, who had grudgingly granted her an audience.
"Can you do an abortion?" Foxglove asked, right away.
"Just a little bit, yes."
"You don't even show yet. Why have you come to me? It would be easy enough for you to perform a termination yourself."
"I don't think so," Foxglove replied. "I've heard stories about girls who tried that."
"It's a little bit late now to be suddenly sensible," Winifred said with disdain. "Still, better late than never, I guess. As it happens I do a pretty ancient spell. It was used in the fifteenth century on young girls in your predicament; it was a slightly worse crime in those days, of course, so that was a good market for witches. I'll expect payment, of course."
"Of course," Foxglove agreed. "What kind of payment?"
Winifred considered. "When this spell was originally performed, the subject would have to sell her soul - and a lock of hair," she added, "but I don't want either of those things from you."
"Um... good." Foxglove felt sure that she should offer this woman something, but she had no idea what. "I don't have any material possessions, but I guess I can offer you my services again."
"You were very useful to me last time," Winifred said, eyeing her thoughtfully, "but I don't think I have any errands need running at the moment."
"Then what can I give you?" Foxglove was becoming desperate. "Do you want me to pledge my allegiance to you or something?"
Winifred said nothing, but Foxglove had put a thought into her own head: in return for her lifetime services, surely Winifred could not refuse to do this for her. Both had something to gain: Winifred would have another stooge, and Foxglove would not only be free of this burden, but she would also have a home, and friends to look after her. Here, she decided, was a flawless solution. She suggested it to Winifred.
"That," Winifred began, thoughtfully, "is not a bad idea at all. Very well... what's your name?"
"Very well, Foxglove. I'll employ your services in return for an abortion. Do we have a deal?" and she offered Foxglove her hand.
"Sure." Foxglove placed her wing in the outstretched human hand and they shook on it.
Foxglove could not help feeling nervous when Winifred was preparing for her part of the bargain; she was putting an awful lot of unusual looking things into a glass bowl, and seemed to be fetching more all the time - but at least, Foxglove assured herself, there were no blunt instruments at hand.
The snake, who had been introduced previously as Bud, and Lou were also helping out, though not at all willingly. They were sulkily lighting countless candles, and pouting while they did so.
"What's your problem?" Foxglove asked.
"I just don't see why we have to help," Bud replied, shortly. "There's nothing in it for us."
"How about less work," Winifred said bluntly, then she turned to Foxglove and said, "You're going to have to bathe in this," indicating the concoction she had prepared.
"Then what?" Foxglove asked.
"Then I am going to cast a spell which will will the unborn child back into its two parts, therefore killing it."
"And that'll work?" Bud asked, sceptically.
"It certainly will. You two may leave."
Bud and Lou obediently dispersed, leaving Winifred alone with Foxglove in the dimly lit boudoir. The latter flew to the glass bowl and was instructed to immerse her entire body in the silver liquid. She did so, and then clambered out of the bowl and waited. Winifred closed her eyes and waved a hand over Foxglove's head and murmured some words in some ancient tongue or other - Foxglove guessed that it was Latin - and then she stopped, and looked expectantly at Foxglove. That would seem to be it.
"And what?" Foxglove said. "I'm not pregnant any more?"
"You're not pregnant any more," Winifred confirmed.
"So... how did that work?"
"Nobody really knows how magic works, but the theory with this case is that I am talking through the mother to the unborn child, instructing it to - well, to murder itself."
Foxglove was not at all convinced that the spell had worked, but a pregnancy test later confirmed that it had. At last, Foxglove felt satisfied that this was where she should stay - she had, after all, something to do, nothing to disconcert her and, perhaps most importantly to her, somebody to depend upon. This, she felt, was the best home she would ever find, and so she might as well make the most of it.
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