Thursday, December 24, 2015
Festival of Lights
Nobody—make that nobody, not even her own children—was allowed to burst in on Elly McMahon in her kitchen when she was on the job. Only the look of sheer terror on Freddy Turner’s face stopped her from head-butting him into the deep fryer. “You get three seconds,” she said.
“You gotta help me, Miz Elly.” His voice matched his face, drawn and panicky. “I can’t take it any more.”
Elly handed off control of the Bighorn kitchen to Toby Horn and hustled Freddy out the back and into winter’s chill. “Talk.”
Freddy opened his mouth. A belch came out, riding a rainbow. Sounds and festive colors hung in the air for a handful of seconds, then dissipated.
Elly’s brows climbed into the tight curls of her hair. “What the heck?”
“It’s not my fault,” Freddy said quickly. “I was drunk. Fun’s fun, but it can stop any time now.”
She slowly shook her head. “I think this one’s off my menu.”
“But you’re in tight with Marissa. She wouldn’t help me, she just laughed. If you’d put in a good word …”
“Maybe if you’d tell me how this happened.” Elly swiped her hand at a trace of pink still wafting on the breeze. “And what it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, Moon-Moon and I—”
“Ah,” she said. Moon-Moon. There was ninety percent of the explanation right there.
“We wanted to, uh, color our pee so we could write ‘Merry Christmas’ in the snow. Eating red and green foods didn’t work out.”
“Oh yes, I remember now.”
“Uh-huh. So we went to Marissa’s boss, you know, that Lex guy? The one with the mini-brewery? He’s got this rep. Rumors say he brews more than beer in the back of that store, y’know?”
Elly shivered, not from the cold, as everything came rushing back. “And you drank whatever it was he gave you, didn’t you?”
Freddy urped up a little bit of purple with orange on its outskirts. “There has to be an antidote, but he won’t talk to us, and Marissa just laughs, like I said.”
“I’m sure it’ll wear off on its own. Almost all of Lex’s potions do eventually.”
“He said we’d be doing this for ‘eight crazy nights.’ I don’t think I can last that long. I’m not even Jewish.”
“Does it hurt?” Elly asked. “Is there any physical discomfort?”
“Just a lot of gas after I eat, and a funny taste on my tongue. It’s more the embarrassment.” This time when the burp bubbled up, Freddy clapped his hand over his mouth. Tinsel-thin tendrils of green slipped between his fingers. “It’s not the belches so much. Those I can deal with. It’s what comes out the other end.”
“What—oh. Oh my dear lord. He wouldn’t have—”
Yes, he would have. Of course he would have. He was Lex.
“I’ll talk to Marissa,” she promised. “How’s Moon-Moon? Is he all right? Physically, I mean.”
“Oh yeah, he’s fine.” Freddy made a face. “He’s enjoying this. Take a look out in the square. It is kind’a pretty, but I’m afraid somebody’s gonna get hurt. Like me. Naturally, he had to tell everybody I’m infected too.”
Elly had raised two vegetarian sons. She didn’t need a diagram. “You get over to Java Joe’s. I’m calling Marissa right now.” Had she dared, she’d throw in a head-butt for Lex. Not that it would do any good. Freddy thanked her and hotfooted around the diner, while Elly went back inside.
But first, she went out into the dining room and the Bighorn’s tall front windows, to confirm with her own eyes what Freddy had just imparted.
She spotted the crowd first, mostly children. They loosely surrounded a tongue-lolling, tail-wagging wolf. The kids kept clear of his hind end. The older ones had lighters.
The wolf barked and raised his tail. A kid darted in with lighter lit. The rainbow arcing out of Moon-Moon’s butt erupted into streamers and sparkles. More than a few people held their noses, but that didn’t stop them from cheering.
“Only you, Brian,” Elly said on a sigh. “Only you would think this is a good thing.” At least they’d gotten fireworks for Christmas, and nobody’d gotten burned yet. Elly heaved another sigh and headed for the phone.