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Chapter 23

SLUG

As soon as Ceese left the clearing, bearing away Puck in his golden cage, Titania flung her arms around Mack and clung to him. "He's coming," she whispered. "I can feel him rising."

"We've got to go," Mack said. "It's a good long run."

"You forget that I'm in my power now." She kissed him. "I'm so afraid."

"There's a chance that we'll lose?"

"If he wins today, I'll win tomorrow. No, I'm afraid that if I win, he won't love me anymore. You won't love me anymore."

"But he does," she said. "The only reason you don't love me is you're upset because you think I betrayed Puck. You're so good and pure, Mack. But if you were a little more wicked and selfish like me, you'd realize that Puck was a tool that Oberon could have used against me. Now he can't."

"I understand that," said Mack.

"With your mind," said Titania. "But in here"she touched his chest"you would never be able to do such a thing. So loyal and true. Fly with me, Mack Street."

"I can't fly."

"But I can." In a quick, sudden movement she swung herself around behind him, gripped him across his chest and under his arms, then wrapped her legs around him. All the while, she was beating her wings, so she weighed nothing. Less than nothing: Under her wings they both rose from the ground.

In a moment they were above the clearing. She took one soaring circle. No birds came near them. Mack could see the glorious spring forest spreading in all directions. Only now did he realize that in all his wanderings, he had never seen spring. Perhaps there was no spring when Titania wasn't free in this world.

Not so far away, smoke was rising from a gap in the hillsthe place where the drainpipe rose in the other world.

"He's coming up now," said Titania. "Away we go."

He was surprised at how fast she flew. Like a dragonfly, not a moth. She could hover in one place, then dart like a rocket. He could feel the muscles flexing in her chest and arms as they balanced and responded to the exertions of her wing muscles. As womanly as this fairy queen might be, she was also a magnificent creature, overwhelmingly strong.

"So the pixie dust thing is just a myth," said Mack.

She laughed. "J. M. Barrie knew boys. But he didn't know fairies. Not like Shakespeare. He glimpsed Puck once, and one of my daughters. He thought the sparks of light were fairy dust. He had no idea what was going on."

"What was going on?"

"Oberon's first attempt to make you," said Titania. "Using Puck as the father. And no humans at all. It didn't work."

"How many tries?"

"Four. Five counting you. The last two could have done it, but they were never able to connect with the people around them. Never able to catch the dreams. It takes a village to raise a changeling."

"That's what humans never understand," said Titania. "They're so seduced by the material world, they think that's what's real. But all the things they touch and see and measure, they're justwishes come true. The reality is the wishing. The desire. The only things that are real are beings who wish.

And their wishes become the causes of things. Wishes flow like rivers; causality bubbles up from the earth like springs. We fairies drink wishes like wine, and inside us they're digested and turned to reality. Brought to life. All this life!"

"More to the right," Mack directed her. "That hill over there. You're heading for Cheviot Hills."

"I never did get the grasp of LA. Too much asphalt. Tar smeared over the face of the earth."

"On which you rode that motorcycle."

"It was the closest I could come to flying like this. Only they would never let me ride naked."

"So the dreams that I absorbed and storedthey're real."

"Dreams are the stuff that life is made of," said Titania.

"And what am I made of, then? Coming into the world after gestating only an hour?"

"You're Oberon's wish. All his wishes for beauty and truth and life. For order and system, for kindness and love. Poured out into the body of a woman and allowed to grow in the form that she dreamed of."

"So she really was my mother."

"The mother of your shape. But Oberon was father and mother of your soul."

"I thought I didn't have one."

Titania laughed lightly, like music in the hurtling wind.

"So," said Mack. "How are we going to fight him?"

"I don't know," said Titania.

That was not good news. "I thought you had a plan."

"I have a plan to make me as strong as possible. And him a little weaker. But once you start hurling unformed causality around, you never quite know what's going to happen. I'll do some things.

He'll do some things. The things we do will change the way things work. So we'll do different things.

Until I'm strong enough to bind him."

"What does it mean, to bind him?"

"So it's all about you and him."

"That's right. I draw power from the fairy circle. And he can't see it. He won't know they're there. At first, anyway."

Mack thought about that. "What am I here for? Why didn't you send me back with Ceese?"

No answer.

"Yo Yo?"

No answer.

"Titania, tell me. I should know."

"You're his fairy circle," she said. "The power he's been storing up for years. Storying up, so to speak."

"So I'm on his side?"

"In a way," she said. "But by having you near me, he can't do anything really awful to me."

Now he understood. "I'm your hostage."

"It's a similar relationship. Except that normally, hostages don't get eaten."

"You're going to eat me?"

"No, silly. I love you. He wants to eat you. Or the dreams stored in you, I mean. He'd spit the rest of you back out."

"So I'd live?"

"It won't happen, so don't worry about it."

"Why won't it happen?"

"Because he knows that while he's eating the dreams out of you, I would reunite you with him.

I'd restore the virtues he drove out of him."

"And he doesn't want that?"

"Suddenly he'd have a conscience again. He'd remember how much he loves me. It would completely ruin his side of this little war."

"What would happen to me?"

"What does that mean?"

"I don't know," she said. "Like I told you, baby. I don't know how this will all come out. We just play with the causalities he gives us, and throw our own realities back at him."

She settled lightly to the ground in the middle of the henge of seventeen columns. She unwrapped herself from Mack's body. "Time to do your art, baby."

Mack set to work at once with a red magic marker, drawing a small heart on each column and moving quickly on.

Word was exhausted at the end of his sermon. His listeners weren'tafter all, it was still daylight when he finished, and they were all hoping that his healing touch would come into their lives, too. But he was finished because the invisible hand down his back had finally let him go. He had nothing left.

He would have gone into Rev Theo's office to rest, but he remembered the use it had been put to so recently. He sat down in one of the folding chairs at the back of the sanctuary and closed his eyes.

Whatever possessed him had spoken again. This time Word wasn't taken by surprise, and he was fatalistic about it. Either it would come or it wouldn't. Either he'd be given words to say, or he wouldn't.

But by whom? He didn't like the sense that it was linked to Mack and Yolanda. What went on with them was not from Godhe knew that much, at least. So why did the spirit only start working through him when the two of them emerged from their semi-holy tryst? Whatever spirit it was, it still worried him that it might not be the Holy Spirit of God.

If I don't serve Jesus with what I do, then whose service am I in?

All the things I said to people. Were they true? Or did they become true because I said them?

That was what Word had come to believe when he studied psychology as an undergraduate. He came to the conclusion that Freud wasn't discovering things, he was creating them. There were no Oedipus complexes until Freud started telling that story and people started interpreting their own lives through that lens. Like neuralgia or the vapors or UFOs or humors or any of the other weird theoriesonce the story was out there, people started believing it.

So now, am I doing the same thing? Do I say things, and then they become sort of true because I said them? Or are they already true, and this spirit that possesses me reveals that truth and heals whatever can be healed? Am I giving peace, or creating chaos?

Is any part of this from me, my own wish to make sense of things? Or some even deeper need that I didn't know abouta desire to dominate? Because that's what's happening. The way they look at me. Worshipful. Grateful. It's the look of faith. I've given them something I don't even have myselfcertainty. Trust.

"Some sermon tonight," said Theo.

"I don't know when it's going to happen," said Word. "For all I know, this was the last time."

"You doing fine before the spirit come into you tonight."

"You could tell when it came?"

"You turned around and looked back at the door, like you heard the Spirit of God coming up behind you, and then you turn around and tell that woman her son lying to her. I say it don't get much clearer than that."

"I didn't hear the Spirit of God. I heard Mack and Yolanda come out of the church."

"Well now," said Rev Theo. "How did you hear that? So much noise, and the door already open, and they didn't walk heavy."

"I don't know," said Word. "I don't even know if it's the Spirit of God that comes into me."

"It's the spirit of truth. Spirit of healing. Have some faith."

"It falls too close in line with the kind of thing I want and wish for," said Word.

"It's right in line with the ministry of His Majesty King Jesus," said Theo. "He said come follow me, and you doing it, Word. Even your name. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and"

"Don't finish that," said Word. "Or I'll change my name."

"I ain't saying that last part is about you. But it's a sure thing that Word is with God. Don't you doubt it."

"Rev Theo, I don't trust it."

"If it comes, it comes," said Rev Theo. "When it doesn't, you just tell them, the Holy Spirit comes when he comes, but the words of Jesus are always with us. We not in this to put on a show, Word. We in this to save souls."

"I know that," said Word. "What I don't trust is... I don't know whether it's good or not."

"Oh, it's good, Word."

"In the long run. They worship me, Rev Theo."

"The thing that's inside meI think it's their worship that it's after."

"Of course it is," said Rev Theo. "Didn't he say, Love the Lord your God with all your"

"No, Rev Theo. What it wants is for them to worship me. To obey me. To elevate me. To give me power in this world. It wants me to rule over people because they think God is in me. It's lust.

Ambition. Pride."

"If you got those sins, we can work on repentance"

"I don't have those sins, Rev Theo. Or if I do, I don't have them so bad. It's not my feeling. It's what I get from the thing inside me. It doesn't feel good. It feels malicious."

Rev Theo didn't have a comforting word for him. Not a word at all.

Word opened his eyes. Rev Theo was leaning back, studying him. "You a complicated boy, Word."

"Not so complicated," said Word. "I just want to do good. For good reasons."

"Sometimes people do bad for good reasons, and God forgives them. And sometimes they do good for bad reasons, and God forgives them. And when they do bad for bad reasons, God will forgive them if they repent and come unto him. You got nothing to fear, Word."

Word pretended that this was the answer he needed, because he knew that wise as Rev Theo was, he didn't understand. He hadn't felt that hot hand down his back. He hadn't felt the glee that radiated from it when people wept as they called out: Word, Word, Word.

It's the beast, and I'm the prophet of the beast. I know that now. It's pretending to be the Holy Ghost, but it isn't. So I'm not serving God, even though that's what I meant. I'm serving... someone else. Maybe someone like Bag Man. Except it's not the way Dad said it was for him. Bag Man made him want things he didn't want. This thing inside me doesn't change what I want. I'm still the same person I was.

Word let Rev Theo take him partway home in his rattletrap ministry car, an ancient Volvo that looked like a cardboard box with wheels and rust spots. "Thing that makes me most proud of this car," Rev Theo liked to say, "ain't a mechanic left in LA knows how to fix it. So you know it runs on faith alone."

Rev Theo dropped him at the bus stop and not long after, Word got on the bus that ran down La Brea and dropped him at Coliseum. Word insisted on thatno need for Rev Theo to take him all the way in to Baldwin Hills, it was too far out of his way. Even though it did mean it was nearly midnight by the time Word wound his way into the neighborhood.

Walking up Cloverdale, Word saw Ceese Tucker's patrol car and Yolanda's motorcycle parked in front of Chandresses' house. But the house looked dark, like nobody was there, or at least nobody was up.

A lot of them greeted him, but they didn't volunteer any information and Word didn't ask.

Maybe they could see on his face how distracted and worried he was. Whatever they were doing, Word wasn't part of it.

He got home and Mother was drinking tea in the kitchen. "Your father's in his office and he doesn't want to be disturbed."

"I'm tired myself," said Word. "He still upset about those poems?"

"Actually, he got some complimentary emails today. There are people out there who like the kind of old-fashioned poetry your father has apparently been writing for twenty years without ever giving me or anyone else a hint."

"Well that's good," said Word.

"So his wish came true, I guess," said Mother. "I wouldn't mind a few of my wishes coming true."

Word sat down across the table from her. "What is the wish of your heart, Mom?"

"My children to be happy," she said.

"You're already Miss America to me, Mom," he said, grinning.

"Well, I do want that. But I guess that's not what you meant. I honestly don't know the wish of my heart. Maybe I like my life the way it is. I'm pretty content."

"That's what happy means in this world, Mom."

"Well, aren't you the philosopher."

"Not since I got that C in aesthetics."

He got up and kissed her cheek and left her to her tea and her contentment with life. Maybe she'd feel differently if she knew that a child of her loins had lived in the neighborhood for the past seventeen years, and just tonight slept with a woman at least ten years older than him after a sort of fake marriage. Maybe that would spoil her contentment just a little. Especially the part about not remembering giving birth to the kid.

Word got undressed and went to bed, but it didn't do any good. Well, maybe he dozed for a while now and then, but he kept opening his eyes and seeing the clock. One-thirty. Two-ten. Like that.

And then, all of a sudden, right in the middle of a plea to God, he felt the hand down his spine start to stir.

I've woken it. I'm going to be punished for asking God to take this spirit away.

He felt it slide up and out of him. And just like that, it was gone.

"O God," he said out loud. "Was it thy spirit? Hast thou taken thyself from me because of my unbelief?"

But in the next moment, now that the presence down his back was gone, he felt a powerful lightness, as if the hand cupping his heart had been a great weight he was carrying around with him.

And now he was at peace.

"I thank thee, O God most holy," he whispered. "Thou hast cast out from me the evil spirit."

He prayed a moment longer, giving his thanks. And with the thanks still in his heart and a murmuring prayer on his lips, he rose up from his knees and went to the window and turned the long handle on the blinds and looked out into the grayish light.

There was a red glow from behind the houses to the right of his window. A glow so intense that it could only be coming from a fire. But whose house? He could see all the houses on Cloverdale, and behind them there was nothing. Just the empty basin around the drainpipe.

At that moment, a column of red light shot upward and something dark rose within it. Word watched in fascination as the thing writhed a little. Like a slug.

A slug with wings. He saw them unfold. He saw the bright and terrifying eyes. He saw the wings spread out and beat against the red and smoky air and lift the great worm into the air.

Not a worm, really. Too thick and stubby for a worm. The ancient lore had it wrong. Not a worm, but a Wyrm. The great enemy of God. The one cast out of heaven by Michael the archangel.

He heard footsteps behind him. He glanced back and saw his father, his eyes red-rimmed as if he'd been up way too late. Or as if he'd been crying.

"So there it is, Father," said Word.

"Can you figure out what a chopper's doing flying over our neighborhood this time of night?" asked Father.

"Chopper?"

Word knew.

"What were you looking at then?"

"No, I just... I'm kind of bleary-eyed. Didn't know it was a chopper."

"You can hear it," said Father. "Waking people up all over the neighborhood, I bet. Have you slept at all tonight, son?"

"If I have, I must have slept through it, cause I don't remember."

It was an old joke between them, and Father laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Guess they'll have to do without you at that church today."

"Maybe," said Word.

Father walked out of the room.

Word watched the chopper head out toward the northwest, right over the Williamses' house.

It was a slugdragon, thought Word. I knew it when I saw itthis was the beast.

And yet it was a chopper all along. Heading northwest.

A dragon in disguise?

Word had to see. He was responsible for this thing, somehow. It had been in him. Who knew what it took away? What knowledge it stole from him.

Word ran to his dad's office. "Can I take a car?"

"When will you be back?" asked Father.

"Don't know."

"You're too tired to drive."

"Won't be far, Dad." Word hoped he was telling the truth. And then hoped he wasn'tbecause whatever business that flying slug had, he didn't want it to be in his own neighborhood, among his friends.

"Take the Mercedes," said his father, and then Word caught the keys in midair and headed for the garage.

Ura Lee wore her nurse's uniform as she stood on the overpass with the earliest of the Olympic Avenue traffic passing under her. There weren't many cars out at this time of daybut the surprise was that there were any at all. Early shifts? Or just people who figured it was better to be at work two hours early and be productive than to arrive at work on time after an hour and a half on the 405 or the 10.

Folks from Cloverdale walking up a cloverleaf.

And before she let herself go off on a mental riff about that, she reminded herself: Sometimes coincidences aren't signs of anything.

Would she ever see Mack Street again?

My son, she thought. As much of a son as I could ever have had. And I raised him about as much as I ever could. I was never cut out to be a fulltime mother, that's for sure. Thank God for Ceese. That boy gave Mack Street a terrific childhood. Full of freedom and yet completely safe, with someone always watching over him.

Maybe I could have been a fulltime mother. Maybe I wouldn't have run out of patience if I hadn't already had a long shift of taking care of people made fretful by their pain. Not to mention the bossy people and the sneaky relatives and the selfish visitors who never noticed that their victim was worn out. The buzzers going off. The bureaucrats making demands. The incompetent trainees. The inept doctors that you had to keep covering for.

Maybe Ura Lee would have been a great mother.

In another life.

She was going to lose Mack this morning. That's what she felt in the pit of her stomach. And she didn't get to say goodbye. Did the boy even know she loved him? Did he love her? He said he did.

He showed he did.

He was supposed to be with me when I died. That was the only wish of my life. To have someone to love me, to hold my hand as I leave this world. I thought it would be Mack. I thought God had granted my wish by putting this child in my life.

Selfish. To grieve more because he wouldn't be there to grieve for me, than for the life that he should have had, and now he wouldn't.

Don't be such a mope, Ura Lee! He's not going to die. Why do you think you're suddenly a psychic. When have you ever been able to tell the future?

She noticed a child's alphabet block up on the sidewalk right beside her. How in the world would something like that be abandoned here, of all places? Did some child throw it out of the car?

And look, there's another. Did they dump the whole thing?

"Look!" she shouted to the other people on watch. "Alphabet blocks! Look! Stand on them!

One of you on each of them! Get the signs! Don't let anybody drive over the blocks or move them!"

They started obeying her. She turned to face Ralph's and waved her arms. Then she remembered that it was still almost completely dark. She switched on her flashlight and pointed it at them and blinked it.

She got an answering blink, and saw some people start trotting up the sidewalk.

That won't last long, she thought. Not many of them were in shape to run uphill all the way to the overpass.

Apparently some of them had sense enough to know that, because a few cars started up in the Ralph's lot and swung out to turn left on Olympic.

Well, let them get here when they come. I've got a block to stand on.

The blocks were too spread out for anybody to hold hands with anybody else. And there weren't seventeen people up here, so they couldn't even cover all the blocks. Why didn't we think to make sure there were at least seventeen?

A single car came from the south. Not part of their group, just some early riser heading for some office in Century City. He blinked his lights when he saw the old black people standing out in the road.

"Let him through!" Ura Lee called out. "But stay close, so he'll drive slow."

They stepped back, leaving a gap barely wide enough for a car to pass. The guy pressed the button and his automatic window rolled down. "What the hell are you doing at this time of day? Stay out of the road!"

"We're here to commemorate the death of an asshole who yelled things at old people out of his car!" shouted Eva Sweet Fillmore.

The man probably didn't even hear herhe was already on his way, with his window going up.

The blocks hadn't been touched.

And now more people began to arrive, carrying signs. Now it would be obvious it was a demonstration. Now they could let them honk or turn around and head back the way they came. No explanation needed. The signs would say it all.

Ura Lee took the sign that Ebby DeVries handed her. SAVE THE CHRISITANS IN

SUDAN," it said. She looked at the others and smiled. It was actually a cause she cared about. After all, this might end up on TV, so they might as well demonstrate for a worthy cause.

REMEMBER AFRICA

FREE THE SLAVES IN AFRICA

IF BLACK SKIN COULD RUN YOUR CAR WE'D LIBERATE SUDAN

WHAT DOES IT MATTER IF A MILLION BLACK PEOPLE DIE?

As far as Ura Lee knew, nobody in LA even knew this was a cause. They certainly didn't expect to have a bunch of black people stop traffic in Century City. So she had made them add a couple of signs: THIS IS THE AFRICAN CENTURY!

WHY AREN'T ANY STARS LOOKING OUT FOR AFRICA?

That would explain, sort of, why they were in Century City; blocking the Avenue of the Stars.

"Are we up to seventy-seven?" shouted Grand Harrison.

Someone on the other side, where the doverleafs were, called back, "No, we still got about six straggling up the hill."

"Well hurry! We got to close this circle."

Ura Lee felt a strange tingling in her feet. She turned to Ebby, who was now holding her hand on the left. "You feel that?"

"Tingling feet?" asked Ebby.

"Gotta dance," said Ura Lee. She yelled at the others. "No more time! It's started! Grab hands and let the latecomers join in as soon as they get up here!"

The circle formed, and they started movingthough five or six people forgot about counterclockwise and there was a moment of confusion. In a few moments, though, with hands joined around the handles of picket signs, the whole circle was slowly but smoothly walking rightward as they faced the center. The stragglers joined in as they could.

Only when the last oneSondra Brown, wouldn't you know ittook her place did the tingling start to rise from Ura Lee's feet. Her feet began to get a little jiggy. Her hips began to sway a little as she walked. A little attitude. A little shine. A few people laughed with delight.

The circle moved faster and faster, but nobody was running out of breath. The tingling covered her whole body, every bit of her skin and deep inside as well.

No way was Yolanda White a hoochie mama. Cause if men could get this feeling just by paying a hundred bucks, she'd never have had time to ride that motorcycle.

They heard the hum, the roar, the thud-thud-thud of a helicopter. Ura Lee looked up. "Good Lord," she said. "How did we get a news chopper here already?"

They heard the hum, the roar, the thud-thud-thud of a helicopter. Ura Lee looked up. "Good Lord," she said. "How did we get a news chopper here already?"

"

"Well, you done with your little hearts and flowers?"

"Just hearts," said Mack.

"Are you done?" she said impatiently.

"One on every pillar."

"All right. Stand here in the middle. And... how can I put this... when he gets here..."

"Keep myself between you and him," said Mack.

"That would be so very helpful," she said.

She went from pillar to pillar, kissing the hearts. "They ought to be feeling that now."

She ran back to the center of the circle.

The flying slug let out a cry of such rage that the pillars seemed to tremble.

"Get in front of me, Mack! Don't leave me out here alone!"

Mack ran to put himself between the Queen and her husband.

Is this the fulfilment of her dream?

In the dream she didn't even know I was there. But in reality, she needs me.

It made him feel good.

"Dammit, Mack, what's going on there? We're not connected yet."

"Maybe it took some of them longer to get up from Ralph's than they expected," said Mack. "It's not that long since I started drawing the hearts."

"What is this, a bad cellphone system?" said Titania. "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me effing now?"

"Please," said Mack. "Don't get angry."

"You're right," she said.

The slugdragon circled at a distance, reconnoitering. Mack sidled around her, as she pointed at each pillar in turn. "I'm not filling up, Mack. This is going to be a short fight if he's got you to draw on and I don't have anybody."

"I can't, Mack, and you know why," she said. And then: "Oh, praise the Lord. They finished it."

Immediately Titania pointed at each pillar, but this time she sang a low note as she did it, and the pillars began to glow.

"Oh, he sees that," she murmuredon the note. "He knows now. Watch out, Mack. Stand up for me."

Mack could hardly think about the dragon, because he was watching the pillars. They were starting to move, sliding around the circle. Clockwise.

"I thought you said counterclockwise," said Mack.

"If the circle moved the same on both sides," said Titania impatiently, "there wouldn't be any friction, now, would there?"

"Silly me," murmured Mack.

"You do know that I love you, don't you, Mack?"

"What are you doing, kissing my ass goodbye?" he said.

"Here he comes, the son-of-a-bitch!"

The flying slug swooped down at them and a talon caught Mack a glancing blow. But it tore open his chest diagonally from waist to shoulder. Mack screamed with the pain and dropped to his knees.

"Stand up, Mack!" she cried. "He can't do that again, he can't afford to weaken you!"

"Once was enough," Mack whispered. "God help me!"

"I can't help you!" she said. "I've got to get this circle moving!"

Mack tore off his shirt to see the wound. It was deep in placesthe skin gaped wide. But it hadn't opened his belly. His guts were still safely inside. "Just a flesh wound," he said.

"Well, ain't you brave."

"We'll see what you think when I poop my pants," said Mack. "He's coming back."

"I'm getting stronger, Mack. It's working. You'll see."

The dragon swooped down again, but this time a bright yellow Cadillac suddenly rose straight up from a point inside the circle and smacked into the slug and threw it off course. A moment later, before the Caddy could come back to earth, it blew up into smithereens.

A thousand golf balls were pelting them.

"Damn," she said. "You got a lot of strength in you, baby. Those should have been ping-pong balls."

"Ain't I cool," said Mack, nursing a welt that was rising on his head where a golf ball had smacked him.

"Let me out of this cage," shouted Puck. "She needs me, don't you understand? She thinks I'm his slave, but I'm not, I love her! She's the love of my life! I'd never hurt her! Let me out!"

Ceese knelt by the cage. "I don't even know how," he said.

"Tear it open. Get back in there where you're a giant and rip this sucker open with your teeth!"

"No," Ceese said.

All of a sudden the globe began to roll. It wasn't magic. Puck was moving it like a hamster, running inside the ball and making it move across the floor toward the kitchen.

"You're not getting out of here!"

"Try and stop me!"

Ceese stopped him.

Puck stared at Ceese's foot, which was holding the cage in place.

"Police brutality!" shouted Puck.

"Oh, shut up, nobody's hurting you."

"Rodney King!"

"Nobody can hear you, Puck. And even if they could, they can't even see this house."

"She needs me!"

"She needs you here, with me," said Ceese.

Puck reared back and let out such a piercing scream that one of the panes blew out of the window. It gave Ceese such a pain in his ears that he picked up the globe and ran back to the back of the house, intending to duck it in the toilet or stick it in the shower.

"Damn," said Puck. "What is this, the Village People's dressing room?"

"I'm getting dressed," said Ceese. "But before I do..."

Ceese took one of the leather jacketsthe one that was still dripping from having been ducked in waterand wrapped it completely around the globe.

From inside it, Ceese could hear Puck's muffled voice. "It's dark."

Ceese shook the wet jacket.

"It's raining," said Puck.

The chopper swooped in low over the fairy circle. When it was exactly in the middle, a big dollop of red splashed down in the direct center of the circle, spattering everyone with it.

"What is it, paint?" called someone.

"Shut up and keep dancing!" cried Grand.

"It's blood," said Ebby.

"Keep dancing, sweetie," said Ura Lee.

Then, to Ura Lee's amazement, her feet were no longer touching the ground. Still dancing, she rose into the air and the circle began to move even faster.

The chopper returned, but this time as it passed, the red paint peeled off the pavementand off everybody it had hitand formed itself back into a ball of paint... or blood, or whatever it was...

which then rose straight up and splashed right across the windshield of the chopper.

The helicopter immediately veered upward and away.

"Blinded him. Good," said Ura Lee.

"What's that chopper doing?" asked Ebby.

"That ain't no chopper, sweetie," said Ura Lee. "It's the devil. And that paintthat was Mack and Yolanda, over in Fairyland, doing something bad to him and making him go away."

"Not for long," said Ebby. "He's coming back."

"Dance faster."

And she did.

The chopper came in close again, and seemed to be heading straight for the flying, dancing, spinning fairy circle. But at the last moment, what looked like a giant frog's tongue shot up from beyond the overpass and stuck to the chopper and flung it away.

"That was close," said Ura Lee.

"It was cool," said Ebby.

That happened a couple more times before the LAPD cruiser slowly coasted along the bridge and slid in under the fairy circle. Ura Lee looked down at the officers who got out of the car and thought it was rather charming the way they took off their caps and scratched their heads and spent a long time discussing whether they dared to report what they were seeing.

Suddenly the metal pipe that made up the guardrail on the overpass tore loose from the concrete and flew upward.

It hit Sondra Brown and knocked her out of the circle. She dropped like a rock onto the road below.

"Oh God help her!" cried Ura Lee. The prayer was echoed by many others.

Whatever God might be doing about Sondra Brown, the guardrail pipe was now standing on end in the middle of the circle, poised to strike at another of them.

And where Sondra had been, it took a moment for the two whose hands she had been holding to get together and close up the gap. During that moment, the circle slowed down noticeably, and sank a little toward the ground, and the tingling that gave them such pleasure as they danced began to fade.

The pipe struck again. This time Ura Lee thought it was aiming at her. But of course it couldn't aim at allthe circle was moving too fast. It hit Ebby DeVries and she flew out from the circle, over Olympic Avenue, and dropped down out of sight.

"Oh, God," cried Ura Lee. "Not Ebby!"

The cop car suddenly sprang into action. The lights came on, the engine gunned, and the cops began to run back toward it, trying to get the doors open.

The car rose up in the exact center of the circle and the guardrail wrapped itself around the car, coiled itself like a snake.

"This is getting fun," said Titania.

But now Mack and Titania were in the air, too, and Mack looked out frantically to see where the dragon was flying now.

Only when a huge tree suddenly rose up into the air in the center of the circle did Mack realize that the dragonslug had stopped flying and had slipped in under the wall of flying pillars. It was now directly underneath them, holding a huge tree in its talons.

It swing it like a cudgel. Incredibly, the tree passed between two pillars, so they weren't disturbed at all.

But Titania gasped as if she had been struck, and the whole circle slowed down. They also sank closer to the ground, and when Mack looked down he could see the slug opening its huge, toothless, sluglike mouth to swallow them up.

The tree swung again, and again it passed between columns, seemingly without harm. But again the circle staggered in its movement and Titania and Mack sank closer to the dragon's mouth.

"Can't you do something?" demanded Mack.

"As soon as they get the circle back together," she said.

"They never will if he keeps breaking it," said Mack.

"Just hold on to me and you'll be fine!" she shouted.

Mack looked down and saw that the reason the mouth stayed directly under him was because it was catching the blood that dripped off his foot. There was a steady trickle of it. He was strengthening the monster. His own blood was being used against Titania.

Mack knew that his moment had come. In the dream he raced up to fight the dragon. Now, in reality, he'd be dropping down onto it. So it was different. But that didn't matter. The most important thing was that the dragon was gaining strength from him. He had to keep it from getting worse. If he was going to save Titania.

Only when he had shoved himself away from her and was dropping downward did it occur to him that maybe the impulse to let go and drop hadn't come from his own mind, but rather from Oberon's.

The treetrunk dropped to the ground and the slug leapt upward. Mack thought he'd simply be swallowed whole, but instead the beast leaned back and caught him in its talons. Then it began to rise up past Titania.

"No!" she howled. "Mack, baby, fight him! Don't let him take you!"

Fight him with what?

Then, suddenly, everything changed. There was no talon holding him. Instead, he was hanging from something by his hands, and the pain in his chest was unbearable as his body strained and stretched.

Suddenly, everything changed. The guardrail unwrapped itself and dropped to the ground; the patrol car fell after it, landing with such force that it blew out all four tires.

The chopper appeared in the middle of the air, the blades seeming to be only inches from the fairy circle as they spun. And hanging from the bottom skid of the chopper was... Mack Street.

His shirt was open and his chest was bleeding from a terrible wound from hip to shoulder. Ura Lee was relieved that no bowel was exposed, but he was losing blood steadily. And the chopper was trying to rise up and carry him away.

The circle spun faster and faster.

"No!" cried Ura Lee. "I have to get out! I have to help him!"

But Mack couldn't hear her. He grimaced and swung on the skid and pulled himself up so he was standing on the skid and holding on to the door of the chopper.

"Stay away from the door!" Ura Lee cried. For she knewsomehowthat if that door opened and Mack went inside, he would be lost. "Don't go in!" she shouted.

Mack seemed to hear her. He looked toward the rapidly spinning circle and hesitated.

At that moment, a Mercedes coasted along the bridge underneath the chopper. It stopped and Word Williams got out.

"Mack!" he shouted. "Jump! I'll catch you!"

That was about the stupidest thing Ura Lee ever heard. Mack was half a head taller than Word.

Word wasn't catching anything tonight.

The door of the chopper swung open. Mack lost his balance, veered, and then, in catching his balance, swung back toward the open door. He was going to fall into the mouth of the beast.

Word jumped straight up into the air and caught the skid of the chopper and hung on. It was an incredible jumpit would have set the record in any Olympicsbut more important to Ura Lee was the fact that he overbalanced the chopper, causing it to lurch and swing Mack back out of the door, which promptly slammed shut behind him.

The chopper tipped on its side.

And suddenly Ura Lee knew what she had to do.

of the chopper, and fired.

The bullet ricocheted off.

"Open the door, Mack!" cried Ura Lee.

"Don't do it!" shouted Word.

"Mack, this is your mother! This is Mom! Open the door!"

Mack hung on to the handle beside the door, completely baffled by what was happening. Where had this helicopter come from? Where were the pillars? Where was Titania?

Only gradually did he realize where he wasin the air above the bridge over Olympic. And the chopper must be...

The manifestation of Oberon in this world. The dragonslug might not be able to cross over between worlds, but like the debris that Mack had left in Fairyland, Oberon himself caused things to happen in this world, and there was a figure here that represented him. A news chopper.

Mack had almost crawled into Oberon's mouth of his own free will.

"Open the door!" he heard someone cry.

"Don't do it!" He knew both voices. The man was Word Williams. The same voice whose sermon he had listened to just last night. Or had he? Hadn't he fallen asleep?

"Mack, this is your mother! This is Mom! Open the door!"

It was Miz Smitcher. But she called herself his mother. And she wanted him to...

To open the door.

She understood. She wanted him to make the sacrifice. She knew it was what he had been born for. He was dragon food all along.

She had called herself Mom.

"I will, Mom," said Mack. He reached out and flung open the door.

Suddenly a shot rang out. Another.

The door slammed shut.

Even with the ice and snow, the dragon somehow managed to stay in the air. But it was staggering, reeling.

One lurch brought the dragon's mouth close to Mack's head. It probably would have bitten down and swallowed the boy in two bites, but something made the dragon lurch yet again, and Mack was pulled back out of its mouth.

Titania looked down and saw a tyrannosaur, with its enormous jaws clamped down on the dragon's other leg. The weight was more than the dragon could bear. It was sinking toward the ground.

Yet Mack seemed oblivious. He reached up toward the dragon's mouth, caught hold of it, gripped its lip, and drew it downward toward him.

What is he doing? thought Titania. Volunteering to be eaten?

The dragon's mouth was now wide open, and on the same level as the pillars that still spun madly around Titania.

A shot rang out. And another.

A bloody eruption in the dragon's eye told Titania that her husband had been hit. But by what?

The dragon was spitting out blood.

Titania knew this was her chance. Whatever had hit the dragon, it had its mind on something other than the magic she might be able to bring to bear.

She said the words, sang the notes, did the quick little jig.

The wings of the dragon dropped off and the sluglike body plummeted.

Sprawled on the ground with both the tyrannosaur and Mack Street being crushed or smothered under it, the dragon stirred. But not quickly enough for Titania.

She waved her hand, and the slug was suddenly transformed. No longer a terrifying dragonslug, it was just a man.

Her man.

And Mack Street was gone. In his place was a single plastic grocery bag, rolling like a tumbleweed in a slight breeze coming in from off the ocean.

But Ura Lee did not regret shooting at the chopper. Whoever was flying it was trying to consume her son. What else could she have done?

The helicopter hit the ground and... disappeared.

Mack Street and Word Williams lay sprawled and somewhat entangled with each other on top of the patrol car.

And the helicopter was gone.

The fairy circle slowed down and sank so rapidly that in two revolutions they were on the ground, moving at no more than a brisk walk. The tingling stopped. So did the jigging.

Ura Lee shrugged off the arms of the two people holding on to her and ran toward the body of her son.

Word Williams stirred, slid away from Mack's body. He saw Ura Lee and said, "I'm sorry, Miz Smitcher. I tried to save him."

The others gathered around.

Not far away, a car caught in the traffic jam surrounding the fairy circle let out a blast of its horn.

One of the cops raised his nightstick and approached the offending car. "This is a demonstration!" he shouted. "It has a permit! Didn't you see the signs out on Pico?"

Ura Lee didn't care about the surrounding people. She made sure Mack's neck wasn't broken, then slid her arms under him and lifted him and held his head and shoulders against her like a child.

"Oh, Mack," she said. "Mack, it was supposed to be the other way. You were supposed to hold me while I died."

Yolanda White appeared out of nowhere, standing on the roof of the cop car.

"Say goodbye to him, Ura Lee Smitcher," she said. "He's coming with me."

"He's dead!" said Ura Lee. "Can't I bury him?"

"He's not dead. But his job is done. Say goodbye to him, Miz Smitcher. I've got to get my pathetic loser of a husband back down to hell."

"He's not a loser!" shouted Word. "He's a hero!"

"I didn't mean Mack," said Yolanda. "I know we had that ceremony, but... it's the king of the fairies that I'm married to. Only now he's the king of nothing, not even himself. Thanks to all these fine people, the fairy circle held, and we've got Oberon in chains. Thank you!"

"It's Cecil Tucker's gun," she said numbly.

"I know where he is. I'll give it back to him."

Ura Lee took the gun out of the pocket of her jacket and handed it to the fairy queen.

Titania smiled at her. "It will be all right, Miz Smitcher." Then she bent over, took Mack Street's limp hands, and pulled him up from his mother's lap.

"Come on, Mack," she said. "You're going home."

She held him close to her, and then unfolded her wings. The people gasped. They hadn't seen them, folded as they were on her back. "Better clear the road and let the traffic through," she said.

Word Williams helped a weeping Ura Lee away from the patrol car and over to the sidewalk.

The cops stepped out into the road and started directing traffic.

Ura Lee looked over the rim of the overpass and saw several people doing CPR on Ebby.

"Sweet Jesus," she said. "Let her live."

"I wish," said Word Williams beside her, "I wish I had the power to heal her."

"No wishing," said Ura Lee. "I don't want any wishing around me. Just doing or shutting up.

Help me down there to look at that girl and see if I can do anything before the paramedics get here."

"Yes ma'am," said Word.

Then she burst into tears again. "Oh, Mack, my son, my sweet beautiful baby! Why couldn't I be the one to die!"

"You'll see him again, Miz Smitcher, I'm sure of it," said Word. "In the loving arms of his Savior.

He'll be waiting for you."

"I know that," said Ura Lee. "I know it, but I can't help wishing. Wishing! Why can't we stop wishing and leave things alone!"


Chapter 22 | Magic Street | Chapter 24







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