IC Act 4/Chapter 27 - Never try to beat the house when playing mind games
Story © 2000-20011 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel © Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe © Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis, Dexter Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and Wanda Vixen© Chris Yost. Character ZigZag © Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard, Doug and Kelly Granitz © James Bruner. Character Mark the cheetaur © Mark White Eric W. Schwartz © Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz. Michael Jones © Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge © Keith Dickson. All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners.

Identity Crisis
Act IV
Chapter 29
Bad Luck and Lightning Rods

"I'll meet you back at the house," Thomas said to Zig Zag as they reached the front door of the building.

Zig Zag frowned and glared at the mouse. "The hell you say," she spat. "I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Thomas let out a heavy sigh. "I'm not trying to avoid you. It's simply that it's not safe to be around me right now."

Planting her feet, she crossed her arms and continued to glare. "Explain."

"Magic is alien to this world," he explained in a low voice, glancing around to ensure nobody could hear him. "Your world was never intended to have magic coming in from the outside. When Arden came here, he punched a hole in the barrier that protected your world. Lakash created a membrane to help stem the tide, but with him and Nanuk pumping power into Arden, there was leakage."

He took her arm and started slowly down the stairs so nobody would be able to see their discussion. "When they left the world, they created another hole, which Lakash again glossed over. Now I'm here, creating yet another hole, and there's a constant stream of power flowing into me from the dragon."

"And your point is?" Zig Zag asked, annoyed.

"The point is, every time I use a significant amount of power, this world reacts to it with some form of bad luck," he declared, annoyed at her impatience. "Normally it's something stupid like spilling my tea, or a car splashing mud on me. Not this time, though. This time, I've use way too much power. Something very bad is going to happen and while it's extremely hard to kill me, you are far more fragile."

Zig Zag gave a nervous laugh. "So you're telling me that you're going to get run over by a car, hit by lightning, or something equally as deadly."

Thomas nodded. "If I'm lucky, that's all that will happen." Seeing her reaction, he shook his head. "Here's the thing. The native magic in your world is extremely weak. The most powerful person here would be the equivalent of a crossbow."

"And you?" she asked, not really believing his excuse.

"What I just did in there?" Thomas asked, chuckling, "about the equivalent of an M1 tank, and that's not even beginning to tap the reserves of power I can call on."

Thomas' attention was drawn to a Mercedes that was backing into a parking slot at the far end of the lot. "Excuse me," he said to Zig Zag, nodding at the car, "but I believe that is Dr Kane."

Zig Zag watched incredulously as the mouse completely ignored her attempts to stop him and walked to wards the stallion who'd exited the car. She watched as he talked to the stallion. The conversation got somewhat heated when she saw Thomas reach out and touch the tie clip the horse was wearing.

She took an involuntary step forward when she saw both step backwards, off balance. "What the hell?" She watched Thomas turn and stumble towards her, holding his head, while the stallion returned to his car and climbed in. Walking towards the mouse, she was about to ask if he was OK, when the Mercedes accelerated forward, its tires screeching.

"Thomas! Look out!" Zig Zag yelled, pointing behind him.

The mouse turned and saw the car racing towards him. He tried to jump out of the way, but the car clipped him, tossing him up over the hood and into the windshield. A few seconds later, he was thrown violently forward as the car ran into the cement posts at the base of the stairs. Slamming into the thick glass, he was momentarily suspended in a spider web of heavy safety glass before falling to the cement.

Zig Zag, having dove out of the path of the car, picked herself back up and looked at the car. She saw the horse in the car, his head tilted backwards against the seat, unmoving. She shuddered when she realized that all she could see where the whites of his eyes.

"Are you OK?" the receptionist at the front desk asked, looking out the door at Zig Zag.

Turning back towards the door, she nodded. "Call 911! I think the driver's injured." She spotted Thomas and rushed up the stairs. He was lying motionless on his back. She ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time to kneel down next to him. She reached out to touch him, but stopped. "Thomas? Can you hear me?"

To her horror, she realized that he wasn't moving--he wasn't even breathing. He'd said that he was hard to kill, but it looked like somehow it had happened. She jumped when his eyes opened and he gasped for breath. "Thomas?" she asked, stunned at what had just happened.

"Ouch," the mouse said, taking a deep breath. "Yes--definitely ouch."

"Are you OK?" she asked, looking him over.

Thomas reached into his pocket and took out a couple of the cherry drops he carried, and proceeded to chew them up before answering. "I believe several ribs are broken and there are numerous pulled muscles as well as some damage to at least one vertebrae, however assuming that I can delay being x-rayed for at least forty five minutes, I should be able to repair the damage such that they won't insist on any hospitalization. Of course, that depends entirely on how the police react to the accident."

"Accident?" Zig Zag echoed. "Is that what you call it? To me, it looked more like attempted murder."

Thomas frowned. "How is Dr Kane?" he asked, preferring not to look himself.

Zig Zag glanced over at the car which was still running, pushing against the pillars. Inside, she could see that the horse hadn't moved. "I think he's dead."

"I was afraid of that," Thomas sighed. "There was a protection spell on the tie clip that was intended to kill anyone but the owner. My protective spells reflected it back at him, though I did catch some of it. I have a feeling his autopsy will show a massive cerebral hemorrhage, since that's what the spell tried to do to me."

Zig Zag's jaw dropped. Earlier he said that he didn't think anyone would try to hurt or kill them, and yet that just happened. She leaned back on her heals and took a deep breath to try and calm herself. Things were getting out of hand and it was all because of Arden. She'd taken him in like she did all the strays and now it was biting her in the tail again.

The sound of the engine stopping caught her attention. Turning, she saw one of the security guards had opened the car door and turned off the ignition. From the look on his face, she could tell that the stallion was probably dead. Shivering slightly, she looked down at Thomas who almost looked like he was sleeping.

"So, do you think this covers it, or should I get ready to dodge out of the way if the ambulance driver loses control?" she asked the mouse, trying to inject some humor into the situation."

"I think this should cover it," he replied, tiredly.

"I guess there is one good thing about this happening now," she said, giving him a grin.

Thomas cracked an eye and looked at her. "And that is?"

She gave him a sinister grin. "You're not on the ZZ Studio's insurance yet," she replied.

Thomas smiled. "Indeed, ma'am. My insurance should cover this incident without issue," he replied, falling back into his role.

Taking a seat next to the mouse, she took inventory of her own condition. She'd scraped her hands and knees slightly when she dove out of the way, but other than that she wasn't hurt. She'd wait to find out what hospital the ambulance would be taking him to and then meet him there. There's no way she would let him almost getting killed stand between her and the truth.

"Hey, hey, girlfriend!" the male snow leopard called as he stepped into the room, carrying a suitcase in one hand. "Guess what I brought!"

Michelle, who'd been looking out the window, turned and smiled. "B! Finally! Some real clothes," she exclaimed, relieved to finally be able to wear something other than a stupid hospital gown.

He heaved the suitcase up onto the bed and popped the latch. "Here you go," he declared, opening the lid to reveal multiple sets of blouses, pants, and other garments. "Everything you need for your stay."

"I'm not staying," she nonchalantly replied, digging a pair of panties out and slipping them on under the gown. "I'm getting out of here today."

"Today?" he echoed, shocked at the news. "When did they make that decision?"

"They didn't make that decision," she growled, ripping off the gown and tossing it on the bed. She continued to dress while she talked. "I'm sick and tired of being locked up in this room and being treated like some kind of lab animal. I've got to get out of here before I really go crazy, so I'm checking out AMA."

Beowulf cocked his head slightly. "AMA?"

Michelle glanced at him and then shook her head. "Against medical advice," she explained, buttoning up her blouse. "It suddenly occurred to me that all these tests might not be covered by my insurance. I called them and they agreed, so my ass is out of here!"

"What did the doctor say about you going? If you're checking out AMA, then he must think something's wrong, right?" he asked, concerned about her actions.

"He said what I already knew; I have a screwed up memory and I've lost a lot of muscle mass from being in a coma for so long. Other than that, I'm perfectly healthy, which is why I'm getting out of here." Sitting on the edge of the bed, she finished tying the tennis shoes that had been in her bag.

Standing up from the bed, she took a moment to make sure her clothes looked OK, then closed the lid on the suitcase and latched it. "Let's get out of here."

"No!" her friend said, holding up both hands. "No way are you going out looking like that!"

Confused, Michelle looked down at her clothes, then back to the snow leopard. "What's wrong with my clothes?"

Taking her by the arm, he led her into the bathroom and turned on the light. "Just look at your hair, girl!"

Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she could see what he was talking about. Though she'd tried to keep it brushed, it did look rather unkempt and wild. "Fine. I'll put a scarf over my head."

Beowulf's jaw dropped for a second then snapped shut. "OK, now I know for a fact that you've got brain damage!"

"Hey!" she shot back, glaring at him. "That isn't funny!"

"It wasn't supposed to be," he replied returning to her suitcase and reopening it. "You'd never let yourself be seen with hair like that, now come over here and sit down so I can make you presentable."

Michelle opened her mouth to argue, and then gave up and closed it. She sat down on the bed with her back towards her friend and sat impatiently while he worked on her hair.

Using a brush, he started working on her hair, trying to get rid of what tangles he could. "I still don't understand what the big rush is to go home."

She sighed. "Look. It's simple. The doctors keep telling me that when I get back into more familiar surroundings, it'll probably help me reconnect with my memories--ouch!"

Grimacing, Beowulf said, "Sorry"

Trying to avoid growling, she continued. "Anyway, they keep telling me that, but then they don't want to let me out. Worse yet, they want to run yet another cat scan on me and they won't say why. They just keep saying they need another one."

"That doesn't sound good," he commented, ratting out another knot.

For a long time, Michelle didn't say anything. She just sat there quietly as her friend worked on her hair. Finally she spoke in a low voice. "What am I going to do if it doesn't work? What do I do with myself?"

The snow leopard put his arms around her in a hug and squeezed as he rested his cheek against hers for a moment.

Michelle reached up and patted his hand. "What did I ever do to deserve a friend like you?" she asked.

Releasing her, he went back to brushing her hair. "Well, for one thing you've let me crash at your place for what--five years now?"

She elbowed him. "Way to ruin a moment."

He stopped brushing again and pursed his lips for a second. "You do the same thing you did before. Just take things one at a time as they come and don't worry about tomorrow. No sense in borrowing trouble. Just like you keep telling me all the time."

"Truer words were never said," she replied smiling. "You done back there?"

Beowulf frowned. "Just a second." He tossed the brush into her bag and pulled out a hair band and proceeded to put her hair in a tail. "There. At least it doesn't look as raggedy like that."

She stood and went to pick up the bag, but he'd already closed it and was picking it up. Giving him a smile, she headed for the door wondering just how big of a pain in the ass it would be to get out of this place.

Thomas resisted the urge to glance over at Zig Zag. The entire time at the hospital and so far during the drive home, every time he'd looked her way she'd been glaring at him. It was a most uncomfortable turn of events. He was both relieved and terrified when Zig Zag pulled the car into the driveway and stopped. He was relieved that there was no longer a chance that she'd rear end someone while glaring at him, and terrifying in that she now had nothing further to distract her.

The slam of the driver's side door jolted him into action. He opened his door and gingerly climbed out, taking care not to stress his back muscles or his fractured ribs. He cautiously leaned over and retrieved his coat and cane before closing the door. He glanced at Zig Zag and winced at her expression.

Zig Zag, seeing that Thomas was finally moving, turned and proceeded to the front door. She unlocked it and pushed it open, only to have it stop suddenly after a couple of inches. "Son of a…" she muttered under her breath. "HAZEL!" she yelled, through the crack in the door.

The faint reply of the squirrel could be heard, "Coming!" followed by the patter of feet as she ran across the house to the front door. She pushed it closed, removed the stopper bar, and opened it again. "Sorry," she sheepishly said, noting Zig Zag's annoyed expression. "You said to set the bar after you left."

Her eyes widened as she got a look at Thomas who had a large bandage around his head and was carrying his jacket over his arm. She glanced back at Zig Zag and noticed a bandage over one of her knees. "What the heck happened to you two?"

"Nothing to worry about, Miss Hazel," Thomas replied, stepping into the house. "There was an accident at the hospice. A gentleman lost control of his vehicle. Miss Zig Zag was fortunate enough to dive out of the way, while I wasn't quite so agile. However my injuries are most insignificant. We are both quite fine."

Hazel looked back and forth between the two. Thomas was acting pretty normal, considering he was British and all, while Zig Zag looked like she was ready to rip someone a new asshole. Not wanting to push her luck, the young squirrel decided to beat a hasty retreat. "Well, the kits are fed and sleeping. They should be out for a while, so if you don't mind, I think I'm going to head home now, OK?"

"Thank you for your assistance today," Thomas said, re-opening the door and holding it for her.

"No problem. I hope you feel better soon," she said as she stepped out the door.

Thomas smiled at her. "Don't worry. A good night's rest should be enough to set me right as rain, as the saying goes." He watched her go around the corner and out of sight before he closed and locked the door.

He turned back to Zig Zag only to be slapped so hard it knocked him off balance. He started to shake his head, but the sore muscles in his neck and shoulder stopped him. Wincing, he looked up at Zig Zag and said, "I suppose I deserved that."

"All right, just who the hell are you, why are you here, and how the hell do you do that thing with the eyes?" she demanded.

"Very well," he replied, maintaining his formality. He leaned his cane inside of the closet and hung up his coat before closing it. Turning, he gestured towards the chairs and couch in the living area. "If I might suggest…" he gestured to one of the chairs as he lowered himself slowly into the couch, wincing at the pain of bending.

"I think I'd rather stand," Zig Zag declared, crossing her arms. "Now give."

Thomas sighed. "Very well, Ma'am. As for who I am, you already know my name. Sheila named her son after me."

Zig Zag shook her head. "That’s your name. It doesn't tell me who the hell you are."

"That--is a very long story, one I will tell momentarily," he said leaning back into the cushions. "As for why I am here, I have three tasks set before me. Number one and most important, is the protection and nurturing of Sheila's kits. Number two, is the protection and care of Sheila herself. And number three," he said, taking a deep breath then letting it out, "I'm to try and mitigate the damage that Arden did while he was in your world."

"What?" Zig Zag yipped in surprise. "What do you mean, mitigate the damage?"

"As you're well aware, Arden did several things which have attracted unwanted attention to your business and caused numerous hardships," he explained. "The most damaging of which was giving you the pistol he used during the firefight. The subsequent events that have occurred included Tammy Vixen leaving town, your extensive legal battles, loss of revenue as well as a sudden increase in costs from your suppliers.

"Add in the issues that are currently happening with Sheila at the hospice, and you have a very large puzzle that points to someone intentionally trying to destroy not only Sheila Vixen's life, but that of everyone around her."

Zig Zag dropped heavily into the chair she'd been standing near. Everything he said was true about the trial, Tammy and her suppliers, but she'd never suspected that someone was doing it intentionally. Sure she had her share of enemies, but something on this scale was unimaginable. Then again, she'd seen an undeniable example of magic again today, something she hadn't seen the likes of since that day when Sheila and Arden had vanished right before her eyes.

She looked up at the mouse and studied him. "OK, and what about the eyes?"

"Ah," the mouse muttered, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "There's a very simple explanation for that. You see, in a way, I am a dragon."

Next Chapter