MANTULA Part Twenty-Two: No Grandma No

Large raindroMant-22ps splattered all around us as we searched for a way back inside the home of Diana Sturgis. I began to feel a slight chill the longer we remained outside, not that the weather affected me much. But any creature, if you keep it outside long enough, will start to feel the effects of the elements. Even tarantulas. ManQuail, however, seemed even sturdier than me. He didn’t bitch at all. It could be I provided a decent break from the rain on his back. Or the little black flop atop his head helped keep moisture at bay.

“There,” he whispered, as if worried Diana would overhear our mental conversation. “I see a window cracked open over there. She must be letting some of the cooler air circulate in the house like we do.”

I looked up, eyeballing the entrance. Sure enough, it wouldn’t be a problem at all for us to get inside. I hoped we would get away undetected for a few minutes, just long enough for me to figure out a way to communicate with the woman somehow. With luck I’d find a pen and writing pad, or even a computer that I could type a quick note with.

It hadn’t been that long since we snuck a ride from Sedona to Cottonwood with the woman, then got carried into her home in time to watch her take her clothes off, so she might be a little pissed about that still. Nonetheless, she was also very curious about me, and I about her, so I kept my fingers crossed there wouldn’t be an attack.

“Let’s get in there,” I said to Glenn. “As soon as we’re inside, head for cover.”

(STORY CONTINUED BELOW)

Doug and Glenn sneak into a Cottonwood home.

ManQuail sprang from the mud surrounding the property and darted into the home. As we flew I glanced about as best I could to see if we were going to drop in her lap. Not that I would have minded that, but it wouldn’t make introductions easy. Luckily we landed right in the middle of her bathroom.

Upon touching down, Glenn darted to the cracked-open door and hid us in the shadows. Beneath the window I saw a claw-foot, deep bathtub full of steaming hot water and bubble bath. Lit candles were visible on a small table nearby. Obvisouly Diana Sturgis was about to take a nice relaxing bath. We were about to ruin that for her just like we ruined her day the last time. Another inch or two off on his landing, I realized, and ManQuail and I would have been dunked in that tub.

We stayed put for a moment, making sure the coast was clear, before finding better cover. I heard no footsteps or any sounds whatsoever. Glenn inched out slightly and we found ourselves peering down a dark hallway. By the glow of the candles in the bathroom, we snuck along the wall until it opened into what appeared to be a guest bedroom. Seeing no one inside, we crept in. Just as did so, I heard footsteps in the hallway. Humming, Diana Sturgis made her way toward the bathroom wearing a blue plaid robe and carrying a mug of tea. Her humming continued into the candle-lit room. A moment later we heard the door close.

ManQuail breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s perfect. She’ll in there for a while. That gives us time to look around!”

“Let’s just find something to write with. We’ll leave her a note and find a place to hide until we know she’ll talk to us,” I said. “If she goes nuts, we’ll have to get the hell out of here fast.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

ManQuail back into the hallway, but stopped in mid-turn. He sucked in his breath, his body trembling suddenly. I turned to see what had brought us to a halt. The image at the end of the hallway jarred me. It was the old hag, dripping with worms and covered in green skin and olive-colored scabs. Maggots and filth dripped from her body as she swaggered toward us.

The woman held her arms out as if she hoped to catch us in a bear hug. “It’s her,” ManQuail panted. I could hear the panic in his voice. I was on the verge of an attack myself. Little worms and other bugs fell from her extended finger tips. They vanished before they hit the carpet. The old woman glowed as she staggered forward. It was a dull light, greenish in hue, but it lit the dark hallway just enough to make out her dark hollow eyes and the craggy slit of her puckered mouth.

She hissed and she ambled in our direction. “Bugs and birds. Reptiles and rodents. Despicable. Deplorable. All hated moments.”

I prayed she would fall over into a pile of dust, vanish into thin air; something. But she didn’t. The witchy kept coming at us.

Mantula Part Twenty-One: The Big New Year’s Recap

I rode MANTNEWYEARSatop Glenn as he made his way through the muggy Arizona weather. The fast-moving man-turned-quail moved deftly through the bushes and assorted trash strewn at the edge of the road. Large rain bombs fell from the gray skies overhead, exploding like water balloons all around us, but a full-blown storm had yet to begin.

I made a sorry attempt to remember my life prior to becoming a nasty little tarantula. Only I couldn’t remember it. My life had changed so much in the last few weeks that everything else began to blur. Not the big things. Not my son. Not the image of him. Not the sound of his laughter. Not the way I felt when he sat in my lap and we read comics. All of those things burned in a hole in the center of my chest that sucked all happiness from my soul. What I could remember, with full clarity, was how I woke up in this body, how confused I felt. I remembered trying to kill myself by leaping from Coffee Pot Rock. Obviously that didn’t work out in my favor. From there I got filmed free-falling by a drone, nearly caused a car wreck, and ended up meeting Glenn under a bush. I also happened to find that $100 bill I just gave away.

It didn’t take long for Glenn and I to learn how to speak to each other with our minds, as if just being reborn into birds and bugs wasn’t weird enough, we were able to communicate easily. Luckily I’ve since learned how to switch it on and off so ManQuail can’t pick up on my every bad mood and every dirty thought. We ended up sneaking a ride into Cottonwood with Diana Sturgis, who also happens to be the owner of Flight Services L.L.C. It seems she was investigating the area where we were filmed by the drone, still not sure why. We ended up in her apartment and got a bonus strip show on top of the free ride. She wasn’t too thrilled to see us there of course. In fact, she was pretty damn un-thrilled. Anger can bring out the worst in people. Her anger made her throw an old painting at me and Doug. We made it to my apartment eventually, our little haven in the shit hole that is Cottonwood, Arizona, but not until after we caused a car crash on State Route 89A that ended up making the news.

Once we got back, that’s when I realized I wasn’t anything like the others who found themselves reborn in the bodies of bugs and birds, all of them addicted to one thing or another too. I was different. I had super strength in a sense. For as small as I was I possessed the strength of an adult man.

Not long after that Sturgis came sniffing around near the apartment, where she hooked up with this reporter Kip Mooney (also sniffing around hoping to see this weird news-making tarantula), they started talking about yours truly. At the time I had no idea why the lady was so into me, but after a few bad dreams starring this nasty old witch, I realized the green, slimy monster was the same old woman I saw in the painting Sturgis chucked at me and ManQuail. She has more to do with all this than I know, which is why ManQuail and I are making our way back to her house.

At around the same time Sturgis and Mooney were sneaking around my apartment complex, I finally decided to check my email. First off, to be totally honest, I was stalking Diana online. I wanted to know a little more about the woman. But that’s neither her nor there. It seems a real, honest-to-God Catholic Saint, Maximilian ‘Raymund’ Kolbe, had been trying to reach me for some time. Thanks to him, ManQuail and I learned that people suffering from addictions, apparently only those of us in this immediate area, were being reborn into bugs and birds. People with depression issues were being reborn into rodents and reptiles I found out. Kolbe informed me the reborn tended to forget their human pasts for the most part, and really immersed themselves in their new life. At least to a degree. ManQuail retained a lot of his humanity, which led him to leave pens and notepads all over his territory in Sedona so he could communicate better. In fact, it seems Glenn ManQuail was becoming more and more like his old self the more he hung out with me – due apparently to the fact that turning into a tarantula did nothing to change me at all. I stayed exactly, one hundred percent the same inside, which somehow set me apart from all the other converts. The whole problem with all this is Kolbe had no clue why it was happening. And he’s kind of a jerk.

(CONTINUED BELOW)

Doug takes a look at how he got into all this craziness.

He did send Glenn and I out on a few “missions” – tests of good will to see if the simple acts would revert us back into our human bodies. They didn’t work, but I did use my human-sized strength to punch out the wife-beater in the apartment below ours. Of course it also made local news, being that a tarantula decking a human isn’t something you see every day. I was glad to help the poor woman, and it made me feel pretty good about myself for about five seconds, but nothing changed about my miserable predicament. The other good deeds were a bust, too, but I did manage to give away my one hundred dollar bill. It was while we were on the latter errand I found out Glenn was having the same dreams of an old witch as me. And now we’re heading to Diana’s house once again to see if we can find out more.

As we approached the place, under the cover of the heavy monsoon storm, I realized I had no plan at all. Leaving, getting there, these things consumed me. Getting my questions answered and seeing the beautiful Ms. Sturgis again were forefront in my head, but the how was something else.

ManQuail slowed his stroll just as her house came into view. Through the rainy gloom I could see light in one of the rooms. The rest of the place looked dark. Moments later I saw a shadowy form pass in front of a window. Someone was home, more than likely the woman I wanted to talk with.

“So what do we do?” ManQuail asked.

“I have no clue,” I replied. “Go inside I guess.”

“Maybe she’ll be naked again.”

“Or maybe she’ll try to kill us again.”

“Fun for us either way, man.”

ManQuail flapped his wings and flew us up and over the chain link fence surrounding her property. We landed, wet and silent, outside her window. Now to get inside.

Mantula will return!

Mantula: The Christmas Special

Mantula Christmas Special

It’s like I always say. God bless us, everyone. Even Mantula.

After all, Doug made Christmas pretty fun for a little Ukrainian girl named Anichka. He may seem like a grumpy dude who doesn’t like much in this world, but he’s actually pretty cool once you get to know him. I’m his best friend, whether he likes it or not, so I should know. They call me ManQuail, which is a way better name than Glenn. Back to Doug, Mantula, though. Who wouldn’t be grumpy about waking up in the body of a hairy old tarantula? It wasn’t so bad for yours truly. I woke up in the body of a quail. No one screams in terror at the sight of a quail, even one who used to have a meth habit.

It turns out some little girls are less afraid of big old ugly spiders than others. Anichka was one of them. She loved spiders to death. Not in the sense that she wanted to hug them and crush them like that sicko in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, but she loved what they represented. Get this, in the Ukraine they’re hung as ornaments on Christmas trees. Here in America, spiders are only Halloween. Christmas is spider-free in the U.S. of A. Only that’s where Anichka ended up with her grandparents.

I found out later her name means grace in Hebrew. Only she wasn’t showing any of that the night we passed by. It was close to Christmas Eve, I remember that, but I’m not sure what day exactly. Everything was cold as hell and twinkling red, gold and green lights blinked on and off in the windows of nearly every house. Cottonwood, Arizona, doesn’t get a lot of snow, but they were that night. It was coming down like dandruff off an avalanche.

We were out on our usual patrol. I called it that anyway. Doug just thought it would be fun to get out of our crappy little apartment for a spell. He wanted to look at the Christmas lights along the street. I’m sure it had something to do with the family he once had, because he got very quiet, brooding almost, once we hit the road. We didn’t mind the chill really, and it was nice to see the twinkling colors in the snowstorm. It reminded me of my own childhood in Camp Verde. I never got a lot for Christmas, but my pop sure loved those lights. He hung them everywhere, even on the broken-down Mazda in the front yard. I couldn’t tell you about Mantula’s Christmas past. He never mentioned his past often.

We’d gotten about two blocks down Twelfth Street, with Doug riding on my back as usual, when we heard a little girl sobbing. I slowed a little, peering sideways through the falling snow to identify the source of the sound. To our right sat a small single-wide trailer. Like many of the crappy homes on the block, Christmas lights blinked on and off all over it, adding cheer to the poverty. The storm kept the streets clear and quiet. Cottonwood folk aren’t used to big storms, so they were settled inside, near their fireplaces with cocoa more than likely. This stillness in the air made it all the easier to hear the sobbing sounds.

“Should we check it out?” I mentally asked Mantula. I could tell he was interested in the source, so I didn’t wait for an answer. With a quick flap, I got us up and over the chain link fence in the front yard.

Mantula cocked his head to the left. “It’s coming from that partially-opened window at the far side of the building.”

I sprang to the edge of the window. The sill wasn’t very large, and I had to cling to it like a fly, but we were able to peer inside the room. There we could see a little girl in a red sweater and pajama pants sobbing on a small couch. In front it was one of the biggest Christmas trees I had seen in years. A giant crystal snowflake topped the giant, which was so tall I would think they’d need the abominable snowman’s help. Besides the sobbing girl, the place appeared quiet.

At that moment, however, a blonde woman came into the room. She wore a green plaid robe and held a cell phone to her head. As she talked she brushed some of her tangled hair out of her face and looked worriedly at the little girl.

“She speaks so little English, Brian,” The woman said. “It’s hard for me to know. I’m sure she misses her parents and the other members of her family killed in Kiev. My Hungarian is terrible, so I’m not sure what it is exactly. She keeps saying sok szerencsét, something about luck and pointing at the tree. I don’t know what to do and it’s breaking my heart. Anichka? Sweety? Is there anything I can do? She’s not even replying to me, Brian.”

“Poor kid,” I said. “Did you hear what that woman said. Her parents were killed it sounds like.”

Mantula looked around the sill, as if eye-balling a way to get inside. “In the Ukraine’s recent civil war. You might not remember it since you’ve been transformed longer than me. Pretty brutal.”

“And she wants good luck now that she’s here in the states?”

“Something like that,” Doug replied. “It’s funny. I think I know exactly what she wants.”

The adult wandered into another part of the house still talking on the phone. As soon as she departed, my friend jumped from my back, through the opened window, and smack into the living room of the trailer home. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I always trusted in my friend, so I came in silently behind him. I’d barely gotten to my feet before he made his way onto the Christmas tree. Seeing that I had no idea what he was up to, I just watched.

The tree looked beautiful in that small little place. Strings of plastic candy canes circled the full, green branches. Gold-colored garland surrounded it, and stained glass ornaments, mostly of Santa and Rudolph and the rest of the Christmas character hung everywhere. Presents filled the area at the base. Many of them were for the little girl named Anichka. Looking up, I finally saw what Mantula had in mind.

In just a few seconds, he’d covered a good portion of the tree in silky, shimmering cobwebs. I could still see the ornaments and garland through the webbing, but still. Why in the hell?

I cried out mentally. “What are you doing, Doug? You’re ruining the tree!” I could hear the woman chatting on the phone in the other room. Her conversation didn’t get any closer, so I assumed she was sitting down somewhere in there. We had a little time. Anichka’s sobs grew quieter, but she remained on the couch with her back to us.

“Trust me, Glenn.”

“Trust you? You’re covering their Christmas tree in webs!”

Mantula kept up his work. He sprang from branch to branch, spraying a fine webby mist as he went, and soon had the tree nearly covered. Seconds later, with his work nearly completed, he asked me to head over to the little girl. Count to twenty, he told me, and then get her to turn around.

I’d given up trying to argue with the crazy tarantula at that point, so I made my way to the sad little thing. At the count of twenty, I gently pecked at her heels. She stirred slightly, then turned her face to me. For a moment her petite features were blank, kind of like the face I make when I’m just waking up from sleeping all day, but then she grew surprised to see me. Who wouldn’t be a little surprised. She brushed the dark hair from her face, wet with her tears, and sat up. I flapped my wings back to the floor near the window in case I’d need a quick escape route. But then she noticed the tree and gasped in surprise.

Dangling from the highest branches came Mantula. He dropped slowly along the center of the Christmas tree, suspended from a single strand of web. At the bottom of the tree, he dropped to the floor. Anichka watched in wonder, hardly moving, as Doug waved one of his legs in a form of greeting. Surprisingly, the girl waved back, sheepishly, but happily too. She stared at the tree, a smile forming on her cute little face, while Mantula climbed onto my back.

WebTree-1

I was shocked. “She likes it. I can’t believe it!”

“We’d better go,” Doug answered. At that moment, the little girl began to clap her hands and shout. Mantula was right. The adult probably wouldn’t be as excited about what we’d done as the girl. I glided to the window sill with Doug on my back and we both dropped into the dark snowstorm.

“Köszönöm! Köszönöm!” Anichka shouted after us. I’m hoping that was “thanks” in Hungarian. By the time the adult came back into the room, we were already back on the sidewalk. I doubted she would find the webbed up Christmas tree as attractive as the little Ukrainian girl, but I also doubted Anichka would let her remove even a strand of the stuff.

“My son had to study Christmas traditions in school once. He chose the Ukraine for his report. Spiders are important there during the holidays,” Doug explained. “There’s folktales about them helping the poor. One particular story is about a woman who cleaned her house so well in preparation for Christmas that the spiders themselves had nowhere to hide. Wanting to see the arrival of the Christ child (part of the holiday tradition there), the spiders hid out in the Christmas tree itself. But they got wild and covered the tree in webs. When the Christ child arrived on Christmas morning, he turned the webs into sparkling treasures to disappoint the woman who worked so hard to make everything perfect. Many believe this tale, of the spider and the Christ child, led to the modern-day tradition of hanging tinsel on the tree. Webs and spider ornaments on the tree are thought to be a sign of good luck.”

I shrugged. “I liked the stained-glass Santa head myself.”

Mantula was quiet for a moment before he spoke again. “She seemed happy, didn’t she?”

I nodded. “Are you ready to go back on patrol?”

“We’re not on patrol, Doug. We’re looking at Christmas lights.”

“We’re looking at Christmas lights while on patrol.”

“Whatever.”

So it’s like I said at the beginning. Merry Christmas, everyone. Even Mantula.

Mantula in the news: Tarantula Knocks Out Area Man

(News article from the Sedona Daily Reader)

Spider KOs area man

Tarantula attacks, knocks out Cottonwood resident

By KIP MOONEY

Sedona Daily Reader

COTTONWOOD, Ariz. – Cottonwood police arrested 46-year-old Luke Brown on Wednesday, Aug. 6, after his wife called 911 to report an odd attack in their one-bedroom 12th street apartment.

Brown, technically the victim of the assault, was later arrested on charges of domestic violence after police observed bruises on his wife’s face and arms. His wife, who wished not to be identified, later admitted she had been the victim of spousal abuse for years.

The 911 call, however, originally concerned an attack on her husband by an unidentified intruder. According to police, Brown and his wife told investigators a large tarantula holding a sign that read “Stop Hitting Your Wife” attacked them. Witnesses said the tarantula flashed the sign at Brown before launching into an attack that left the man unconscious on his living room floor. The tarantula, witnesses added, appeared in the company of a quail. Police speculated that, if true, a third, human party likely trained the unlikely duo.

Cottonwood Police Department Lt. Gwen Owens said she doubted the insect was large enough to hit the man hard enough to knock him out, but declined to comment on the truthfulness of the story pending further investigation.

“I imagine the shock of the assault itself was enough to make him pass out,” she said. “I know it would scare the Dickens out of me.”

Brown’s wife, meanwhile, said she appreciated the intruder’s appearance and told the Daily Reader she plans to file for a divorce from her abusive husband at her earliest convenience.

“I’m keeping the sign the big spider showed my husband to remind me that I can do better if I set my mind to it,” Brown’s wife said. “I wish I knew who trained that tarantula to do all that stuff, whoever it is who wrote the note, so I could thank them for that.”

Wednesday’s Incident is the third strange tarantula sighting reported in the Verde Valley in recent weeks. In July, the Sedona Eye, a drone operated by Flight Services, L.L.C. and owner Diana Sturgis, recorded what appeared to be a tarantula falling from the sky in the area of Coffee Pot Rock. That tarantula is not thought to be connected to Friday’s crash. Following that, drivers in a three-car collision in Cottonwood reported the crash occurred when a car swerved to avoid hitting a quail on the street. A tarantula rode atop the quail holding what appeared to be a $100 bill.

Mantula Part Twenty: Wormy Witch Woes

Mant-20From: Doug Lansing

Subject: More good

Date: August 6 2014 11:53 AM

To: Maximilian ‘Raymund’ Kolbe

There was a female panhandler on the road. I gave her my $100 bill. It seemed to cheer her up, which actually seemed to cheer me up too. Go figure. As you probably already know, I didn’t change. Glenn didn’t change either. I am not sure doing good will change anything in our predicament, but if you can think of any other way to help others, let me know. Maybe there’s more we can do.

PS – What can you tell me about an evil old witch-type woman with worms all over her body? It seems Glenn and I both are having bad dreams starring her. It can’t be a coincidence.

________________________________________________________________________

From: Maximilian ‘Raymund’ Kolbe

Subject: Re: More good

Date: August 6 2014 12:21 PM

To: Doug Lansing

CC: Dymphna Gurrll

Have a lot going on today. Good job giving money away. Attached are some images I have of old women. Tell me if any of them ring a bell. More soon.

Maximilian Kolbe

Patron Saint

“God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.”

I stared at the screen dumbfounded. Here I was finally being nice to the guy and he cops attitude back at me. Saints are complicated, I’m sure, just like the rest of us, but they certainly weren’t all likeable. This one seemed kind of like an asshole to be honest. Could be he wasn’t always that way I suppose. But I didn’t know him in person, and I didn’t know him back in World War Two, so I got the ass.

There were four attachments in all. Two were old black and white images of a woman with wispy white hair and a generous smile across her antiquated mouth. I could tell immediately she wasn’t the grandma I was looking for. Another was an old woman in a black shawl seated in a high-back recliner. She sent a chill down my spine the minute I laid eyes on her. It wasn’t that she was hideous to look at. She was thin, had black hair tied into a tight, conservative bun at the back of her head and scowled at the camera. The next photo was similar to the first. It showed the same woman seated on a rocking chair, rather like Whistler’s Mother, with a painting hung on the wall nearby. And I recognized the painting.

Not only did I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, this was the nasty green witch I saw in my dreams, but I now knew what to do next. The painting on the wall in the photo, I remembered, had nearly killed me just a few short weeks ago. Diana Sturgis chucked the thing at me when she caught us peeping on her. This old witch was her mom, her grandmother, or something – not that she seemed too worried about hurting that painting in her anger.

Glenn sprang to the counter in the kitchen and started hitting his beak against an old pizza crust he’d left there for just such an occasion. He glanced over at me while he pecked at his meal. “I know I can’t read your mind anymore, but I’m getting to where I don’t have to. Something’s up. I can tell by your body language.”

(Story continues below)

ManQuail Meme!

“Remember that woman we watched strip, when we snuck a ride in her car? She has something to do with all of this. I’m going to go back there,” I told him.

“Does she have something to do with the witch?” he asked.

I started heading for the window. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to see the beautiful woman who managed drones once again. “You don’t have to go with me, Glenn.”

“Hey, man. It’s like I always say, birds of a feather flock together.” ManQuail swooped down to the floor and joined me near the window. “I won’t be happy if she tries to kill us again, I’ll say that now, but we have to stick together. Besides, it would take you forever to get there on your own. Get on.”

I did as he asked, secretly happy Glenn would be joining me on another adventure. As we set off on our way, the first drops of a new monsoon began to fall on the hot asphalt roadway outside of our crappy little apartment. Gray skies formed overhead, a perfect setting for witches.

Mantula Part Nineteen: A Lovely Day in Cottonwood

Mant-19The summer heat continued its daily parade of oppressive force. Luckily it felt worse and worse as the hours wore on, meaning later there would be another round of monsoons. If there was anything to be liked about the Grand Canyon State, it would be those storms in my opinion. As we made our way in and out of the bushes, heading toward the Walgreen’s at the corner of 89 and Main Street, ManQuail made small talk. I wasn’t too interested in what he had to say, but a part of me listened anyway.

To be honest, I was back in the mode of longing for what I didn’t have anymore. Not that it had ever really left me. I didn’t want to be an eight-legged, hairy bug riding on the back of a former meth addict-turned quail. I didn’t want to exchange emails with some thing, maybe once a man, now living in Sedona, Arizona, as a patron saint of addictions. I didn’t want to dream about gnarly old witches with worms in her mouth. And, as much as a part of me liked it, I didn’t want to keep thinking about that woman’s striptease. What I wanted was to be left alone. I wanted my dreams to have my son in them, for us to laugh and make jokes, for us to be together again. I’d live in the body of a tarantula for eternity if I could only see him again. Even if it was just for a minute, long enough for him to say he was okay, so that I could know he was okay. Instead all I can see is his face, his hand waving at me, through the smudged school bus window as it drove away.

I would be prefer that over anything, but if I could get my old, depressed body back too that would be nice.

“This is better than hanging out in the apartment all the time, right?” ManQuail rambled away as we ducked under a broken, termite infested post with a rusted mailbox still stuck at the end. “It’s a great pad, don’t get me wrong. But I just end up napping a lot, and this week that hasn’t been a lot of fun. I love sleeping, you know. But not with the wild dreams I keep having. I could do without those.”

Only half listening, I agreed. “I could do without my dreams lately too.” I thought of the wicked witch again.

“You’re having bad dreams too?” he asked. “Bet they aren’t as bad as mine. I keep seeing this old lady with death crawling all over her. She’s green too, like she’s covered in gang green, or maybe it’s moss.”

“Hold on, Glenn. You’re seeing her too?”

ManQuail trotted between a dumpster and the back of a Mexican restaurant, somewhere with a little shade from the stifling oven outside and a bit of solitude. We were about a block up from the Walgreen’s. I could hear the roar of the traffic at the intersection. Sirens blared a few blocks away, but that was common for “The Wood.”

ManQuail sounded a bit worried. “Wait, you see her?”

“I have had a couple of dreams about a greenish woman covered in worms. She laughs at me the whole time, like she thinks I am doing something incredibly stupid.”

“That’s what happens in my dreams, Doug! This is incredible. It’s like something out of a movie!” Glenn shouted. His wings flapped excitedly near my face. Then he paused. “What do we do about it, though? What does it mean?”

I watched a black widow crawl along the outside of the grease smeared dumpster. The little thing couldn’t care less about Glenn and I, nor our problems. “I’m not sure what to do, Glenn. But it has to mean something. We can’t both be seeing the same creature in our sleep randomly. I’ll bet it has something to do with this whole thing.”

“Should we tell the saint guy? Kolbe? He might be able to help.”

“So far he hasn’t been much help at all. But yeah, I’ll tell him.”

I looked down at the hundred dollar bill I held. First we’d do some more good. There wasn’t much point in heading back to the apartment right away. Maybe doing good would still break the tarantula body and let the real Doug, unwashed and unshaven, spill free. It was worth a shot anyway.

“Let’s finish what we started first, Glenn,” I said. “Head down to the corner. There’s usually always a panhandler or two hanging out down there.”

It took about thirty minutes to find someone, but find someone we did. Cottonwood never lacked in folks asking for help. Sometimes they were people just passing through and hoping for a little gas money to get them another hundred miles to the next decent-sized city. Sometimes they were veterans who didn’t trust the system they served for so many years. They wanted nothing to do with it, but they did need a helping hand once in a while. For them it was safer to ask a citizen for help than it was to get back into that system. A few of them had good reason to avoid it too, from child support long overdue to arrest warrants.

I once knew a guy in Flagstaff who panhandled for a living. He lived in a two-bedroom house with his wife and three kids. His folks owned the place. The dude made most of his money playing gigs at night with one of Flag’s many local rockabilly bands, but when that got tight, he pulled a beat up old wheelchair out of the garage and went two towns away. He’d sit all day in that wheelchair with a cardboard sign and often come home with upwards of two-hundred bucks. Everyone had reasons for what they did in their lives. That guy had plenty of them. But often, these were folks who were just as miserable as they looked. And most of them could use help.

Perched at the sidewalk, near the entrance to the Walgreen’s, Glenn and I spied a lonely woman with jet black hair down to her backside. She wore an old army jacket, faded from too much sun, and had her black hair tied into a greasy pony tail. Her face looked creased and old, as if she’d spent the majority of her life right there on that little piece of sidewalk with her cardboard. Written in black ink were the words, “Anything you can do to help is appreciated.” She stared at the traffic, but didn’t seem to actually see the vehicles that whizzed by.

I smiled to myself. “She’s perfect.”

Per instructions, ManQuail trotted along the sidewalk, keeping close to the shrubs lining the pharmacy’s property, until we were quite close to our mark. I unfolded the hundred dollar bill and held it before me. I’d no sooner done that, than the bird trotted out into the open, right next to the female panhandler. She looked our way absently, then paused as her eyes focused on the sight in front of her. Glenn bopped a bit closer. She took in the sight of the bill I held. A moment later she snatched it from me, her eyes wide as saucers. Glenn turned tail and started back toward the bushes the second the money got in her possession.

“Thank you!” She called out to us as we disappeared from sight. For a moment, I forgot my expectation that we’d suddenly turn back to humans. That actually felt good.

Better than knocking out the wife beater.