He dressed his green coat once more and brushed off his brownish slacks like there were invisible specks of dirt on them. Inhaling a heavy sigh, he pressed his knuckles against the door and gently rapped. He rolled his eyes at his idiocy for knocking on her door so quietly and tried again with a more pronounced rapping from his knuckles. Instantly, all the animals squawked, yipped and mewed at the acknowledgement of a familiar smell of Pavid. The sounds became louder as the creatures pressed noses at the corners of the door as if to snort up the investigator into their olfactory lobes.
From experience, Pavid knew that the animals were happy at his inevitable presence, and he amused that he was a pleasant disposition compared to their master. The animals’ exuberance at his arrival began to fizzle down as the clacking of their master’s boots approached the door, and then her voice scattered the happy creatures.
“Depart you heathens! There is no food at the other end of this door. Just resolution!” The door swung open. The fat and old Miss Claws glared an accusatory eye at Pavid. She immediately demanded, “Where is the Dry Pelican!?”
“Uh…,” Pavid began until he was rudely interrupted by another voice behind Miss Claws.
“Were iz die pekan.”
“Quiet! You foolish snail.” Swinging her head behind her, Miss Claws hollered at the wall and then swung back towards Pavid. “What now?”
“Miss Claws, we have been through this before.”
“Indeed. I sent the note to your door so you can dispatch to your work immediately.”
“But I require some details, please.”
“Details?!! It’s gone.” She shuffled towards him and for a moment he thought she was going to whisper but she spoke loud in a conspiratorial tone, “Someone stole it.”
“I…uh.” Before Pavid could counter with some reassurance that he knew what he was doing and that he was a professional, Miss Claws snapped the door wide open and stomped back inside.
“Coom en,” the talking snail repeated in a gentler tone.
Blocking the doorway with his body, Pavid pushed himself through the pack of animals, waving them back so he could step into the smelly home. He presumed her animals liked him because he smelled like animals, or perhaps a new face was a splash of fresh air.
The talking snail crept along the north wall and watched him with big eyes like weighing his existence with thoughtful contemplation. Its size would have been intimidating if the creature wasn’t so furry and passive. At close proximity, Pavid could see the thousands of little tendrils that assisted the creature to ascend the wall slowly, approaching the ivy that grew along the cracks of the ceiling like groomed cornice.
“Dirdee flays,” the talking snail prophesized.
“Dirty Fires!” Miss Claws stomped around the house while pushing animals from her path with her feet. Pavid never understood how fires could be dirty but it was her favorite curse when she was frustrated. She had many curses- some that probably stained the house forever into the oblivion of depression- but she pronounced her favorite curses like they were gemstones that kissed her lips.
“What was its name?” Pavid asked.
After so many contracts, the names that Miss Claws had chosen for her pets should not have surprised him, but it still did. Pavid shook his head while jotting down the note into his brain. Since a child, Pavid had a strong memory that had caused him much trouble with his insecure mother. She never liked it when he corrected her after she lied.
Miss Claws scavenged through loose papers and discarded foods that decorated her small home. While she fussed over maddening chores, Pavid looked to the sculptures of races that were trapped in warped configurations as they danced on top of the fireplace mantel. Eerily, it reminded him of the stories that his mother had told him about the Estillianes and the Temple of the Three. Between the warped sculptures was a book that read in Grismer, “Book of Glass.” The ragged book was not made of glass, and Pavid never learned the significance of the book.
The fireplace was gray stone, common from the surrounding territories. The Veiled Elk emblem of Blentiun was carved into three of stones. Miss Claws said that she had stolen the stones; Pavid assumed it was half a lie.
As she rampaged through the home, her animals kept greedy eyes on the leftover pieces of bread and seasoned meat that lay on the tables. Most of them crept towards the food with a hesitant look drawn between the food and their master; pausing, watching, creeping and then pouncing. When their small brains were sufficiently satisfied that they could get away with snagging the pieces of food, they ensnared it, gobbled it up in one swallow and then cowered into a corner in preparation to be punished. It was a strange game.
Other than the disheveled chaos of foods and papers, the house had changed little since the last time Pavid had stepped into it. He never preceded any farther into the house than the small foyer, enough room to shut the door behind him so her animals couldn’t escape from their cursing master. The first two times he had entered her home, he had to chase down her excited pets as they pranced into the streets, happy to be free and happy to be chased. The farther they ran from him, the happier they were and the more frustrated he became.
A heavy metal box sat on a rickety desk, barely standing on its wobbling legs; the paint shedding like silent tears. In the box was an assortment of Learing coins, old and new. The Learing snake heads of prestigious nobility marked their faces, and the reverse sides showed frits and other glorified insects from their culture. Pavid had never understood where Miss Claws had received so much money, or why she so arrogantly left it on a table that was closest to the door. He supposed the lylecat’s excellent hearing and loyal guardianship guaranteed certain arrogance that no criminal would be foolish enough to attempt such a burglary.
“What am I looking for?” Miss Claws called out from the kitchen.
“A portrait! Pools of magic, what kind of portrait do you want?!!”
“Of the dry pelican.”
Toddling out of her kitchen, Miss Claws dropped rotten food onto a table next to her favorite ragged chair. “Dark weapons and foolish nobles, what kind of portrait could you possibly need of a dry pelican? It is a dry pelican! Pools and fires, they all look the same.” Miss Claws plopped her weary body into the chair and stared fixedly at Pavid.
“But each animal has a distinct…” Pavid started explaining and drifted off, knowing she was going to interrupt him with some old rant.
“What kind of investigator are you? I spent my lifetime searching for my lost pets and I never needed a portrait.” Pointing a finger at his head and then thrusting the finger towards her own brains, she pounded her aged temple with such a force that Pavid thought it would have cracked and a hundred spiders would crawl out of her ears. “Right here! Right here, I says. You have been here enough times that you should know what he looks like.”
“Miss Claws…,” Pavid pleaded while trying to recall when he had seen a dry pelican in her zoo. He thought he had an accurate count of her pets and would have noticed an awkward hen that bobbled around in circles. Dry pelicans were not known for their gracefulness.
“I can’t find it! Dirty Fires!”
Pavid sighed. He looked about the ivy cornice, noticing a few more nests that had accumulated in the corners. Dawdle birds scampered across the vines, their heads bobbing forward and feet racing behind them. Each dawdle bird was unique in its coloring; various blues, greens, purples, oranges, and reds mixed to create a pretty and original looking bird. Their wings were the most unique, inverted backwards but somehow it made them fast. Most of her dawdle birds curled into corners as their master exhaled a tirade of curses. Their beaks spooned through loose twigs, patting them into a thicker wall to protect their new eggs from the violent incantation of slurs from Miss Claws.
Pavid turned to the talking snail that was slowly ascending the wall to reach the streesberries growing on the ivy. “Dry pelicans aren’t known for their speed,” Pavid mentioned casually while plucking some berries from the ivy and feeding them to the snail. It grumbled an earthy moan, satisfied by the treat.
“Don’t feed him! Shardife, he’ll never learn to do it himself and fight for what he wants. He’ll expect to be fed. Silly Forest Fires!”
“Sometimes, they’re just hungry.”
“Don’t you sass me, you foul mouthed Caravoon.”
Changing the subject quickly, Pavid continued, “What I am trying to say, it is not likely that your dry pelican danced down the street and no one noticed.”
Miss Claws crossed her arms and defended, “It was at night. Only the drunken fools would have seen it!”
“Two nights ago.”
Pavid rolled his eyes feeling like he was arguing with the talking snail. “Was there anyone who stopped by to take an interest in it?”
“Of course, people always take an interest in my animals.”
“Someone in particular? A collector?” Pavid searched his brain for words that would spark a thought from his contract. “Any shady people stop by to gander at the dry pelican, specifically.”
Miss Claws thought for a moment while staring into the lumpy floor that was smeared with urine and all colors of feces. Pavid anticipated a revelation as she thumbed through the cobweb of memories. “No.”
“You are giving me very little to start on.”
“Yes,” Miss Claws said somberly. On rare occasions, tears would stream to her face when thinking of her pets but not that time. One time he had to report that a shopkeeper had accidentally killed one of her pups when setting a cart on its mark. The pup was crushed, but she insisted that he dig up Bargia’s body to prove it to her. It was the most gruesome chore he had ever taken up. After presenting the body to her, she immediately hid in her kitchen. Pavid never had the heart to ask for the rest of his payment on Bargia’s contract.
“Just find him,” she concluded.
“You did have a portrait made of him?”
“Of course. I just can’t find it right now. It was next to the cabinet over there with Sauns and Harpy. It was delightful.” The pleasant word of ‘delightful’ sounded strange when uttered from her lips, but then she compensated, “Stupid fiery vermin and their darkened hearts.”
“Of course. The best to sketch my beautiful darlings.”
Pavid panned eyes around the room of animals that were curled in fetal positions and begging with large eyes and sad expressions. “How long have you had it?”
“Her! Soiled soul.”
“How long have you had her?” Pavid corrected.
“Two…?” Pavid started and then stopped before she could pounce on him with another sermon of slurs. “Who did you buy her from?”
“Snorting bastard. Ugly and scaly. He had vicious eyes and gnashing teeth, snapping and chiseling against each other. Nasty creature.” Spit launched from her lips and landed on Harpy’s back; the hopper dog leapt up with a shriek. Its legs scratched wildly against its hide like scraping off fleas. The dog finished its grooming and thumped under a table for the protection against any more spouting spits.
Some drool still dangled from her lower lip as Miss Claws continued with a gleeful addition, “Cost very little. Good price.”
“Where can I find this distinguished gentleman?” he asked sarcastically.
“Ooo. Must be on the other side of Slinder, near the upper west side. He comes out of a dank house that was built around a mausoleum.”
“Fires! How did you find this creature? What… did you purchase from a Soul Eater?”
“Don’t curse at me, boy!” Miss Claws warned.
Heedless, Pavid pressed for more answers, “What race was he?”
She relented to his anger and vehemently answered defensively, “I do not know. But he had a hood and an ugly dark green and brown color to his skin. His eyes were silver though. That was odd. Hard to miss.”
“How did you find him?” Pavid asked out of curiosity more than anything else. With the exception of the gnashing teeth, the person sounded like a Droth, but Droth didn’t have teeth.
“I was wandering the west side, near that sewage line. I was picking ‘shrooms off of the walls. They grow there, and the beasties like them.” She added with a cruel grin, “So do I.”
Twirling plates of leftover breads and meats around, Miss Claws randomly tossed pieces to the floor. Her many ‘beasties’ snatched them up quickly and swallowed them whole. Sauns watched the creatures fight for scraps and chase around the room until the food disappeared into their gullets. The animals licked their lips and thumped their heads back to their saddened positions.
Miss Claws continued, “I was walking along, filling my bag, and there he was. He was just standing there in the cemetery. I didn’t think he lived there at first. On a cemetery stone, I saw the dry pelican dancing around on its cute little legs. Shardife, I approached him to ask how much he wanted for the creature. Dry pelicans are very scarce nowadays.”
“I know,” Pavid agreed.
“So he offered to sell it to me for fifty marks. A good price, considering. But unusual.”
“Where did you get the marks?”
“What do you mean?”
“Thist Marks are not common currency. Let alone fifty.”
Miss Claws scoffed and snorted, “I found it lying around, you foul mouthed toad. Besides, I thought he wanted to get rid of it. The way it watched the creature made me think it was neither amused nor burdened, like watching wind push a tree around. Just stoic. For all I know, he never owned the creature. I was just glad when I brought it home, and it danced for me all night. Got very little sleep. I was also glad that none of my beasties ate the thing. I lose many lizards and snakes that way.”
Pavid scanned the faces of the dogs arranged in a semicircle around him; the one named Heart licked his lips when Pavid looked into his eyes. “You’re sure?”
“Of course. I went through their droppings. There were no pelican bones.”
“Well, I am glad you did that. Not my favorite chore in an investigation.”
“What about this creature? Did it have a name?”
“Yes, ‘it.’ Good word for it, ‘It.’ No, but I call him Fire Breath because his breath was so vile I could have set fire to it from a candle flame.”
Pavid relented, feeling that he was getting nowhere with the interrogation of his client. “Very well, I have enough to begin. Each day, five silver pieces. Plus costs.”
“Coinage is right there, Investigator Fires,” Miss Claws stated like she presumed that Pavid was determined to take the contract.
Unfortunately, Pavid was very good at his job, not the most social person, but good at finding lost animals. He allowed Miss Claws to enjoy the power she felt over him like a noble ordering a servant to chores, but he scowled hard enough that most people would have noticed. Dragging his feet towards the metal box, he picked through the assortment of Learing, finding the most current silver pieces and stuffing them into his pocket. He never attempted to cheat her. He figured it wasn’t worth tempting fate against the might of the lylecat. “I will proceed to my duties and return with the pertinent news.”
by Jax. E. Garson
Copyright 2010, 2014
This is the end of A Dry Pelican excerpt. Please feel free to grab a copy!
Pavid is an animal Investigator who hates animals. Struggling to keep food in his belly and his house in stable order, he takes simple jobs of animal investigation because no one will hire him for the bigger ones. His recent client is a vile woman who wants him to investigate the loss of her Dry Pelican. The simple mystery leads him to Fire Breath, an eerie and dark creature that foresees his future in four images.
After questioning a female animal caretaker, Invesia intrudes into his investigation, despite his demands that she leave him alone. The persistent woman brings along her pets that are just as eager to pester him. Eventually, he discovers an affection for her that may be difficult for him to accept because of her love of animals.
His closest friend and poet, Imagio follows him on this daring quest. He shares in their naiveté of the outside world and stumbles through renovated towns, strange secret places and dark undergrounds.
The simple mystery turns dangerous and then evolves into something larger than himself. Unable to let go of his contract and stay within the familiar ground of Slinder, the investigation leads him into areas of the world that he has only heard about. He must face fears of monsters, Fire Breath and the bothersome intrusion of Invesia and her loyal pets.
Searching through poison groves, abandoned towns, a University, brandy shops and an ancient temple, Pavid must find the courage to stop the cultists from resurrecting immoral nobles before a selfish Cultist Lord releases a greater evil from that cursed magic.
Appropriate for young adult reading: no sex, no language, Fantasy action.
Watch this trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5U2Ukwvcvo
At Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004Q7COFW