“So. Micean Council.” The crow gestured with her beak at my red bead necklace. “I see you brought some muscle with you—a Pomeranian!” She cackled with laughter.
“Go lay an egg!” Waffles barked.
Dichall stood up on the dog’s back and waved at the bird, then waited a moment until he had the crow’s full attention. “We need to get to a particular address.” He gestured around. “But we don’t know the way. Can you point us in the right direction?”
“I can do better than that.” She fluttered to the snow in front of us. “I can fly you there. But,” she cocked her head to the side, turning a bright eye back on Waffles. “I think the dog might be a little too heavy for me to lift, even though it’s a really, really tiny dog…” She cackled again, then hopped back as Waffles started growling.
“Watch it, crow!” Waffles took a step forward, hackles rising.
“Though the missing eye it makes him a little bit lighter…” The bird could hardly get the words out with her laughter.
Waffles launched forward, jaws snapping, but missed.
The crow sprang into the air and landed on a low branch, beyond the reach of the irate dog.
“Waffles!” I reached forward and swatted him on an ear. “You aren’t helping! Calm down!”
Waffles grumbled but dropped down and lay in the snow.
The crow’s laughing slowed and she wiped an eye with her alulu feathers. “Hey, come on now, I’m just taking the piss. Follow me.” And with that she took wing and lifted into the air.
We remounted Waffles and he trotted along the side of the road, following the crow, who flew through a sky that was but a smear of gray cloud.
Sometime later, after many turns down sleepy streets (and just when I was starting to think maybe she didn’t know where to go after all), the crow landed in front of a house. “This is where your sparrow, Jody Curator, lives.”
We thanked her and she flew off.
Waffles looked at the house. “I’m guessing she doesn’t live in one of the trees out here?” He looked around the yard, then pointed his nose back at the house. “How do we get in?”
Gretchen pointed to a window with a wide sill. “Let’s take a look in the window there, see what we’re working with.”
Waffles looked around again, slunk behind some bushes, then dashed for the window and hunkered down under it.
I sighed. “Stand up so we can jump on the sill and stop being silly.”
He huffed but got to his feet, then placed his front paws on the sill and stood while we climbed up him and onto the painted wood.
“I’m going to go wait in the bushes over there!” Waffles barked then dropped to the ground and dashed for the bushes again.
I shook my head at his dramatics before heading to one side of the window. I sat, then pushed against the frame and made myself as small as possible. A second later, Dichall and Gretchen joined me. We huddled together, watching an empty living room and trying to work out where the bird might be. A light snow began to fall. A few minutes went by.
The cold, and the start of nerves ate into me, and I almost suggested we find a hole or other way in when a woman holding a cup of team walked into the room.
I shivered – from the cold, I told myself – while peering through the glass. “Do you think the bird is her pet or something?”
Gretchen let out an annoyed grumble. “Maybe. Let’s just watch, ja?”
The woman was stocky but not fat. Her patterned red dress hung to her knees, swishing around her legs with every step, accented with her bobbed red hair. She looked like an advertisement for a crayon. Her green eyes stood out, almost as if lights were shining behind them. I had a hard time visualizing her as someone that would keep any sort of pet. Maybe the bird lived in the attic or something?
Gretchen blinked as though coming out of a trance. “That’s… she’s the bird” She pulled her fist back like she was going to knock on the window.
I gripped her wrist. “No!”
Gretchen cleared her throat then smiled at me. “Eve, let go, bitte.”
I did, reluctantly. “Gretchen…,”
She shook her head. “I know what you see, but that…” she gestured with her gaze into the house, “is a sparrow.”
I glanced into the room, shook my head again, and turned back to Gretchen. “No, that’s a…,”
“Eve, please. Remember who I am?” Gretchen put a paw on my shoulder. “I can see her true form with my magical sight. She must be using some sort of spell to stay in human form.” She held my eyes for a moment longer, then turned and rapped on the windowpane with her carpenter’s nail.
I felt my blood pressure spike as the woman glanced up from her phone at us.
The woman blinked, put her teacup and phone down on the coffee table in front of her, then stood and walked over to the window, and opened it. “Come on in.”
The blast of warm air from inside was tempting – and the fact that Gretchen was already inside sealed my fate. Dichall and I followed her inside.
We jumped to the floor and the sparrow in human form closed the window behind us. She gestured to a chair. “Have a seat. Can I get you some peanut butter or something?”
Gretchen leaped atop the chair. “Yes, please.”
Our host nodded, then turned and walked into the kitchen.
Gretchen looked down at us. “Well, come on up!”
Dichall and I shared a look then joined her. A minute later the woman walked back in carrying a saucer smeared with a spoonful of peanut butter. It smelled amazing. She placed it on the seat next to us, then sat back on the couch and picked up her teacup.
Gretchen licked the peanut butter and then daintily wiped her mouth. “Are you Jody Curator?”
“Yes. You’re Councilmice?”
I held up my bead. “Ottawa division.”
“All right. What do you want with me?”
I dropped the bead to my chest. “We heard you had some magical glasses that replicate the powers of the magical sight. We need them for a mission we’re on and were wondering if you might lend them to us.”
“Would if I could. Or I’d rent them to you, perhaps. But I don’t have them. I lent them to a human named Morgan Stout.” The woman’s head tilted just a little too quickly, and for just a moment she looked like a human imitating a bird’s movement. “She’s a friend.”
“When will she be done with them? We’re trying to save a child whose condition is worsening by the hour.”
“Don’t know.” Jody sipped more of her tea. “I don’t know how long she’ll need them. Frankly, I’m not sure she really knows what she’s doing. She thinks her brother Josh is a victim of something… supernatural.” She put the cup down on the table and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin.
I sighed and found my paw had moved to the fur over my womb. My litter would be born soon. “We really can’t wait.”
Dichall smiled at me. “Let’s see if we can help her. She’ll be done with the glasses, then we can borrow them.” He looked to Jody for confirmation.
Jody tilted her head. “Not so fast, councilmice. I’m going to require some form of payment if I’m going to lend them to you and I think I want…” she peered at us. “Something useful. Something like…a veilring.” She nodded her head. “Yes, if you want the glasses, you need to give me a veilring. I’m sure there must be a lot of extras lying around after so many of you died. And,” she stared at Dichall. “I want it before I lend you the glasses.”
“Maybe there are…” Dichall twisted his veilring on his finger. “But we don’t have any extras with us.”
“Well.” She picked up her cup, took another sip of tea, and then put her teacup down in its saucer with a clink. “I can always use money.” She must have noticed the blank looks on our faces. “You know: cash – what the humans use to buy things with?”
This was the first I’d ever heard of an animal wanting money. “You want us to pay you with… human money?”
Her head jerked to me and she spread her arms. “I live here, in this gorgeous house, posing as a human.” She pointed at me. “And it’s none of your business why. However, I have to pay human rent.”
The situation had gone from nerve wracking to ridiculous. “But we don’t have any money!”
Jody waved this away with hands that ended in bright orange nails. “That isn’t my problem. You want to borrow the glasses, it’s either a veilring or cash – end of discussion.”
We mice looked at each other and shrugged. What choice did we have? Maybe we could come up with something while helping Morgan.
Dichall sighed then nodded. “Fine.”
Jody nodded once and looked at the chandelier. “Gavin?”