The Local Druid #453
Our second to last stop took us the farm home of an old friend of mine. Just outside Augustyn, my friends Gabriel, Ellie, and Ellie’s kid, Brit, bought several acres of land that they are attempting to turn into a fully functional, self sustaining, and isolated farm. This isn’t to say that they are farmers, not primarily. He’s a delivery guy and she is an IT wizard. Not exactly what one would expect to become people of the land, but the vast number of cantaloupe plants and sprouting fruit trees sing the praises of their agricultural abilities.
After phoning to tell them when we would arrive, and making our way down the less than maintained Texas roads, they met us at the beginning of the dirt road that served as the driveway to their ranch style house. When they saw our car, they immediately waved. At first i thought it was just friendly welcoming to their abode they loved so much. Then the waiving exploded into frantic gestures and her young one jumping into the air. She was hard to miss with the radioactive magenta hair and more face studs than professional jeweler wearing his merchandise. We put the breaks on fast and rolled down the window.
“Hi.” Ellie said. “Yeah, you may want to stop there.”
I bunched my eyebrows. “What happened?” I asked, having no idea what had changed in the last few hours.
She pointed at the sky. “Did you catch that shower we had?”
Our bare windshield only held desert dirt and several bugs, no raindrops. “Nothing.” I said.
“Yeah…” She looked our car up and down, the 15 year old sedan. “You guys don’t have four wheel drive do you on that thing?” We shook our heads. “Then you better get your stuff and lock the car. Our driveway kind a washed away. But welcome to Texas!”
It didn’t take long for us to put our immediate needs into the back of their SUV. Luggage stowed, they gave us all hugs. It was strange hugging Brit. She had been a quiet 7 year old when last I saw her. Now she was looking at animal training college and a part time job as a goth go-go dancer. The parallax took a bit to get used to. For that matter, seeing friends after such a long time made me appreciate the changes. Gabriel (whom everyone called Gabe) had gotten just as bald as me and acquired the physique of a retired ball player. Ellie alone looked the most like when I saw her last, with only a new pair of glasses and a shorter haircut being the only major adjustment. It was good to see old friends again.
They welcomed us into their home Gabe had to check on something outside and Brit being a teenager with a vast network of friends, a poly community to check in with, and need to plug in left us with Ellie who and showed us to our room. The only furniture in the former work space that still stood functional was an inflatable mattress on a cinder block frame, but after such a long journey, we loved it. We talked about life, what had been happening, and the usual catch up that accompanied such a get together as we stowed our gear and tried out the mattress. I have no idea how they did it, but it was damn comfortable.
Ellie apologized for not having dinner ready for us. I have to note that besides being an IT specialist for a major corporation that she asked me not to mention and a farmer, she is also a costume maker for a local children’s theater, minor author, and networking master for various friends. Really, it was ok, Ellie. You have enough on your plate, seriously. (I know you read this. Thanks for your support.) As a way of saying thank you, I made reservations at a mid level restaurant that wasn’t too far away, the Round Robin Cafe. (For a quick review, good food, amazing deserts but never order any of the pies or cakes without ice cream. They send out the grizzled chef with prison tattoos and a meat cleaver the size of his forearm to ask why. We got to see this happen to the family two tables down. They also have hexagonal hamburgers, buns included. Review Over.)
We continued to talk about our move, about why we were heading to Space City. Again she made the case for Augustyn, mostly because she as tired of us being hours away. If Augustyn hadn’t been found like Bridgeton had, we might have just asked to stay a long time, get an apartment, and reroute our material positions to the local capital. It had several universities, major companies that were hiring like mad, and brilliant night life, all of which made it the target for house investors, hipsters, and vultures the west coast cost. Still, it had friends we knew from long ago. I should also mention that she has been trying to get me a job at her company for years. More on that in later entries, as I may have more updates later.
After probably an hour of gabbing, Gabe came back in, sweating like a man chased by zombies fire elementals with bad attitudes. Then again, this was Texas. I remember that being kind of normal for daring to step outside. He was also breathing raggedly, which wasn’t that common. Most of the time anyway.
He came over, put his hand on Ellie’s shoulder, as much for emotional as physical support as he puffed a few breaths.
“What happened?” Ellie asked her husband.
“They are back.” He breathed, trying to smile. It was the “They” that caught my attention. In a world like this, it could be insects, bad weeds, or demented supervillains. Then again, it could just be dangerous combination of misplaced fire ant mounds and shorts. I had to know.
Before I could ask, Ellie asked me what time our reservations was for. I told her and she blushed, embarrassed again, for really no reason. “Yeah, could you move that back an hour or so?”
“Sure, I can try.” I said, holding my phone. “Why, if I can ask?”
“The beast are back again.”
“Did you say ‘beasts?’” Kay asked. “What exactly are ‘beasts?’”
We followed her to the large window facing the back of the property. Off in the field, among the blueberry bushes, things emerged, large, bristling things. At first I thought it was a family of boars which have been known to pester people in the more rural places of the state. But these were huge, more numerous, and very pink.
“We call them beasts,” Ellie told us, “because they aren’t quite boars.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged pulled her phone from her pocket. “As far as we can tell, someone around here used to be a pig rancher who died. We don’t know who because, according to local legend, they ate his corpse. Eventually they broke free and roamed free. They found a group of boars and got on like a house on fire. Now they are like death machines with a vast amount of back bacon.”
We watched the beasts strip several blueberry bushes clean as Ellie dialed.
“Hi, this is Ellie [name withheld] at [address withheld].” She said into the phone. “ Can you send over a druid again? We have the pig things again.”
“Yeah, the, um, you know, pig-boar, um things. You know the Swine-things of Unknown Kaddath.”
“Great! How long?”
“Thanks again.” She hung up.
“‘Swine-things of Unknown Kaddath?’” Kay echoed.
“‘A druid?’” I repeated.
“What?” Ellie said as she slapped her phone back into her pocket.
“Don’t you guys have the Druids Union out on the coast?”
“We were never that close to farming communities.” I admitted. “But I had seen ADF circles and knew people who call themselves druids. That’s a religious thing right?”
She twitched her head, an affection held over from her day of explaining tech to executives who never wanted to admit they had no idea what she was talking about. “Well, yes and no.” She in an easy chair while we watched the Swine-things devour another bush. “If you ask Brit, she’s a druid, but mostly she is pagan. You know how it goes.” We did and nodded. “But then there are those who got meta abilities but had no interest in putting on a cape. Most of them saw it as an opportunity for extra cash. So several plant manipulators, animal speakers, and shapeshifters and formed the Druids Union. They are kind of invaluable and reasonably priced.”
“They are metas?” I asked again.
She shrugged. “Mostly low power ones, you know. The kind who just want a nice middle class life and not much else? Don’t get me wrong, they are helping people around here. You should have seen the neighbors when they had a rattlesnake infestation. Ever see snakes flee in unison, like a whole sea of snakes?” She broke apart in a laugh. “Oh you can’t even imagine how many snakes we have in this county, or did at least.”
“Mom!” Brit called from her room. “I think we have swine-things again!”
“I know!” Ellie called back. “Thank you.” She sighed again. “Knows every member of Timberwolves for the last 40 years but can’t look out her damn window.”
We sat and we talked over cold drinks while we waited. The recent rains made the air sticky but not hot, like a cold sauna if such things existed. We talked about job opportunities, the local gaming groups, and again, she asked us to move in. Before we could answer, there was a knock on the door.
“That’s them.” She said and got up to answer the door. I looked at my watch. It had been 20 minutes. I can’t even get a pizza delivered that quickly.
On the other side of the screen door stood a kid, barely more than 20. He wore a simple white roble which looks like it had attracted it’s fair share of mud, coffee stains, and blobs that I assumed were blood. The billowing hood masked his face for a second, though I could see the obvious soul patch and an attempt at a goatee surrounded by half-hearted bristles. The massive plastic framed glasses slid down his nose as he stared at his phone.
“Yeah…” he said, like the traditional way to start a sentence. When did that become a thing? “You, like, ordered a druid?” I practically expected waves of pot smoke to come billowing out of him.
“Are you Ceredwynkalutha?” Ellie asked as she tried to match the boy with his profile pic.
I took a moment for the words to register with him, like his buffer was full before he answered. “Wha… oh yeah… Carey, please.” He swiped on his phone something. “So, like, you are having what? Pig trouble?”
“Swine-things.” Ellie corrected. “Can you do something about them?”
Again a pause, waiting for his invisible universal translator to get back to him or something. “Whoa, swine things? Yeah...I can do that.”
“Good.” Ellie said, motioning that he should come through or around. “They are out back eating the blueberries.”
He stood again, motionless.
“You know, the swine things?” Ellie prompted. No motion. “That I hired you for?”
“Standard rates apply and do not provide for any destruction or possessery experiences that may occur. The Druids Local 435 cannot be held responsible for whatever instances the principles was not prepared for but is free to make any complaints on the website, localdruids435.com.” He said it all like he memorized it for just this eventuality so he could cover his ass legally. “If you agree to theses terms, I may begin the assigned duties.”
Ellie sighed. “I agree. Now will you get a move on?”
“Wha…” He said. “Oh yeah the pigs. On it ma’am.” barely looking up he walked around the house, stomping through the mud. Ellie closed the door.
“That asshole is going to help?” Kay asked as Ellie walked back to the large windows, crossing her arms.
“He better.” She said, watching.
Carey made his way around back and just trudged past the house. He barely registered the loose earth and sucking quagmire unless one of his Reeboks got stuck for a second. The Swine-things saw him coming, turning their angry heads to watch the interloper when he cursed at the muck. Wailing cries of unheard of shrieking species mingled with the unearthly bass as each of the things roared their disagreement to his presence. He sighed.
“Think this one will get killed?” Gabe asked his wife.
She Shrugged. “Maybe.” She estimated. “He better not for what we are paying.”
I looked at Kay at the casual conversation of body count. “Ex-military, huh?” She giggled. Ellie and Gabe had both spent time in the service.
“You know Gabe couldn’t cook for a long time.” Ellie said, her eyes still peeled on the scene outside of an ungodly Mexican stand off. “He had an epiphany one day when he figured out how a recipe works.”
“It’s just like making an explosive.” Gabe smiled that wicked grin of his. “The correct ingredients in the correct proportions in the correct sequence. Now I can bake like a tiger!”
“You should try his raspberry scones… whoop! There they go!” Ellie shouted over herself as the swine things charged the lone robed figure.
Carey raised his hand in the traditional ‘please don’t kill me’ gesture, hands flailing like jazz hands. The swine ignored him, howling with hungry rage and rushing towards him.
Until the druid yelled “Whoa!”
They stopped, blinking. Something behind their eyes flicked, not computing the situation.
Carey turned to the window, his hands still waving in hipster equivalent of archaic gestures. “Hey!” He called. “Do you know the Paulsons?”
Ellie shouted back. “No. Why?”
Carey returned his attention to the horde and commanded, “Go bother the Paulsons! Buzz off!”
As a unit, the swine-things rushed into a curve and found a new direction away from the house. They eased past the remaining bushes and jumped past the fence on the north side of the property. I had no idea that pigs could jump that high. Or boars for that matter.
I heard him mutter, “Freaking orcs, man. Just like freaking orcs…,” before following his footsteps around the house. His foot got stuck in the same place too. Ellie and Gabe greeted him when he got to the door.
“That should take care of them ma’am.” He said causally before reverting to his rote speech. “Local Druids #243 would like to thank you for your patronage.”
He fished out his phone and asked for a signature. Ellie gave it and Gabe gave him a scone for his trouble. The latter was appreciated with a “Dude, thanks, man.” Then he left, stripping off the robe so he could ride his bike to his next assignment. I don’t know why, but his Rush t-shirt made it even more surreal.
“Now, when is the reservation?” Ellie said, clapping her hands.
We just stared at her.
“Oh don’t look so shocked.” Gabe said laughing. “It’s not like Bridgeton is the only place with metas.”
I shrugged and told the the stories of what we saw as we headed to a great dinner.