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Stranded Angel
  Autumn 1936

A story by Simon Barber & David Reese Dorrycott & Fredrik K T Andersson
A story of Angelica Silferlindh, a character by Fredrik Andersson,
(including characters from his comic strip "Silver Angel")
& featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott
and characters from Simon Barber's Songmark Academy stories.

Stranded Angel
  Autumn 1936

Part 10
by Simon Barber

A story of Angelica Silferlindh, from Fredrik Andersson's Silver Angel comic strip
and other characters by Fredrik Andersson;
featuring Oharu and characters by David Reese Dorrycott

and characters from Simon's Songmark Academy stories.
Art by Simon Barber & Fredrik Andersson

Oharu © Reese D’Orrycott, Angelica and Kama © Fredrik Andersson

“It’s quite wrong, you know, that the Spontoonies are an ungrateful bunch, never mind what that Millicent at the Consulate says,” Amelia Bourne-Phipps was saying to her friends as the sun set over Haio Beach. “They actually do appreciate most things the tourist trade brings, not just the money. I mean, without tourists the place’d be like Mildendo Island, or Orpington. A collection of plantations, some docks and a coaling station. No bright lights or plum jobs. No film stars dropping by.”

    “Ayup,” Helen Ducros commented sagely, the tigress keenly observing the twenty-foot tall statue standing out on the beach. “Reckon so. Reckon they’s got the measure of the tourists, after this long.” The statue was not quite twenty feet across, but it was certainly ten, and the stuffing bulged out of the midriff below the virulently painted sacking shirt. The effect was very convincing, honed by another summer of keen observation.

    “It’s not that they’re actually ungrateful. But well … you can’t really blame them. And it’s not as if they let the tour-boat crowd actually see this happen. Last year they just wrote it up as “a fine festival” but there weren’t any photos of it in the Daily Elele; newspapers do have a habit of turning up where and when you least expect them. In, I don’t know, half a dozen villages there’ll be some thoroughly torched tourists tonight.” Amelia drew a deep breath. “Their effigies, anyway. I did tell Molly she isn’t really qualified to take part; it’s not as if she’d been working all summer in a Casino Island hotel wearing a chambermaid’s outfit, getting groped by sweaty customers every day.”

    They looked at each other for a few seconds; both held their breaths trying not to burst out laughing at that image.  “Oh Lord,” Helen choked out “the Tourist Board would have a bad day, ah reckon, when they found out what’d happened to the man who tried that. She’d make beef jerky outa him. Chilli spiced.”

    Amelia nodded. Not just the men, she told herself. “Just as well her “holiday job” was on Krupmark where nobody minds that sort of thing.” Her ears went flat. “I suppose our Tutors know all about that by now. They know everything else the minute after it happens. Except when we’re planning something. Then …”

    “They know it the minute before!” Helen joined her in the chorus; it was a Songmark catch-phrase. Then they did fall about, laughing till the tears came.

Oharu watched the two from the far side of the clearing, where the preparations for the evening’s ceremony were almost ready. Her heart raced when the saw them joined by their friends Maria – and Molly. The doe was the tallest of her friends not even including her long, mobile ears – Helen and Maria were much the same height as each other, but the bovine massed a good twenty percent more muscle. Molly was tall and lean, muscles sinuous as whipcord – according to Amelia she was about the best of the distance runners in their year.

    She closed her eyes, pinning the image in place for future reference. She would draw this scene several times, later on. All the Songmark girls were in Native costume, with palm-frond skirts and flower leis that they had made themselves – there were subtle distinctions in the way a Native would make them, even though a textbook would not distinguish between the very similar techniques. All four looked keen, relaxed and in the peak of health; their oiled fur gleamed in the light of the torches. Happily the cured oil used in Native fur treatment was no more inflammable than candle wax, or the Hoopi Jaloopy festivals would be a hazardous business.

    “Honoured Mother?” She turned to see three of the villagers standing, musical instruments in their paws. “We are ready to begin. “

    Oharu smiled. “Then we shall begin. “ She motioned towards the unlit bonfire. Saimmi had coached her in the traditions; strictly speaking any village elder could preside over the festivals, but there had rarely been a lack of priestesses ready and willing to serve. Standing to one side, she lit the small bonfire with a deft stroke of her tinderbox and paper-dry rotted wood – and blessed the fire, her gravel voice clear in the calm night as the crowd strained to hear. Then she stepped back as the band struck up; this was a festival of the people, it was their release and celebration, throwing onto the fire the tourist season’s thousand indignities and inconveniences that a pay packet would never wholly compensate for. The New Year bonfires were an older tradition on much the same lines, casting away fears and unresolved worries. Just as the Spontoon islands had never needed an orphanage, the Native traditions seemed likely to make the place a thin prospect for psychiatrists.
    “Ah,” she looked on from the darkness, the firelight in her eyes as the villagers lit torches from her blaze and thrust them at the giant effigy, cheering as its loud shirt went up in a crackle of sparks. “With this night, they burn away what might rot and fester inside their hearts all the long winter. What insults they have taken with a smile, unable to respond to those who bring the wealth to their lands. I believe I understand. With this, they may greet the first new tourists next year with a true smile.” She made a mental note that would be copied into her book the next day. It was not exactly a religious festival, but if it was important to those she served – she would value it too.

    Her heart raced as Molly picked up a torch and stood before the blazing effigy, the doe’s eyes seeming to fill with fire as she thrust the burning brand into the flames. Molly stood back a step, threw her head back and laughed, a feral sound of wild delight that had some of the crowd looking distinctly worried. Oharu had heard that Molly had begged permission to travel to Main Island the week before to take part in the annual post-harvest sugar cane burnoffs on one plantation – with the success the two rival German scientists were having elsewhere on the islands with their energy generating composting plants, it might be the last time those fields ever deliberately went up in a wall of cleansing flame.
    Oharu stepped back into the crowd, content to share the night of celebration on South Island and watch the doe from afar. Her Autumn time was approaching, and as she looked at Molly she realised it was just as well the doe would soon be back in class and she would be far away in the Great Stone Glen. Far away on foot and by canoe, she corrected herself – but only about two minutes from the Eastern Island airfield in one of the biplanes Songmark flew. The images of a doe descending by parachute to her glen, she contemplated for the space of a few heartbeats then firmly packed away.
The mouse looked up at the full moon, rising through the clear skies over the slopes of Mount Tomboabo, and gave a wry smile. Not even she could be in two places at once. It was fortunate that she had promising students who could take care of some of her chores.

    “I am hoping,” she told herself serenely, though her tail twitched in a mischievous shiver, “That Miss Angelica is having as good a time.”

Angelica Silvferlindh had promised herself that tonight, she was going to enjoy herself. She was stuck here in this primitive village on an island whose only recommendation was its fine weather – and that fine weather was liable to be coming to an end fairly soon. There had been some grey, rainy days already and from what she had heard about the Winter months, being out all night in a small fishing boat would be pure freezing hell.  At least, in September her fur was mostly dry by the time she fell asleep. She shivered in anticipation, imagining staggering up the storm-swept beach before dawn and arriving soaking wet in a chilly Popoluma household where the fire-pit would be just banked embers until the rest of the household awoke hours later. How the locals avoided rheumatic fever was one of the mysteries of the islands.

    “This is as good as it’s going to get,” she told herself, looking at the preparations being made all around her, with locals happily greeting friends and relations over for the feast. “If I don’t like this, there’s nothing else to look forward to.”

    “Day-greetings!” Monoteha waved at her, the otter happily sandwiched with a large canine Native boy on each arm. “These my friends Hamoha and Pabato, they Guides on South Island in Summer.” She winked. “Guides school, they take only plenty fit, strong boy, girl, all strong enough they maybe carry tourist back if sometimes hurt. Or plenty often, exhausted.” One of the canines flinched a little in surprise as Monoteha tweaked his tail. “They get plenty tips, oh yes.”

    Angelica smiled, trying not to grit her teeth. This is the best there is, she told herself again. I’m not going dancing in Casino Island ballrooms any more, not on a fisher-girl’s salary. “Pleased to meet you.” Her ears stayed up, though it was a conscious strain. Just then she noticed a tall figure, standing outside the crowd and staring out to sea. “Isn’t that Shark Hunter? I’ve not seen him since I started on nights.” The one good thing about her floodlight fishing was that everyone stayed in the boat rather than going underwater as did pearl divers – though there was little difference in how cold and wet her fur was by the time they made harbour.

    “Ho yes.” Monoteha followed her gaze. “Fine sight to see. Easy time of year for him now pearl fishers they out of water, safe from danger-shark.”

    Angelica closed her eyes tight shut for a few seconds. He’s a Native, I’m a Euro, or that’s what they call me. She felt her ears twitching rebelliously. Or …do they? They’ve had that ceremony, making me one of them. Or so they think.  She frowned, her tail swishing. You could take a Euro girl out of civilisation, she told herself, paraphrasing an old saying, but you can’t take the civilisation out of a Euro girl – unless she deliberately decided to ruin herself. From the looks and hints she had picked up, current betting seemed to be on her getting together with Shark Hunter for a life involving longhouses, kittens and lots of fish.

    She turned up her nose, suppressing a shudder at the idea. One part of her mind registered that it was rather strange; generally she found herself thinking the dedicated guardian of the village was quite handsome, in a “Noble Savage” sort of style. Quite unsuitable socially, she often had to tell herself, imagining the loincloth-wearing Native on the streets of Gothenburg where she daily longed to be. It was a shame there were no disinterested parties such as the Songmark girls around any longer, through whom she could quietly place a bet against the presumptuous natives. The village had taken her rose pearl’s bounty of two hundred shells off her for their own use – and she would love to prove them wrong.

“A grand evenin’ for t’ party, though but,” Prudence looked down on the village from the top of the hill, most of the swimming team with her. Some competent staff work had assembled them in an hour at Main Village, and they had arranged for a full day of seagoing practice the morning after the party. “An’ a gradely beach for us t’morrer. No rip tides, nowt to pull us out o’ formation.”

    “At least, when Miss Devinski asks us if we’ve been keeping fit over the holidays, we’ll be able to give her a good answer,” Belle agreed, the rabbit’s ears perking up as she spotted the big palm-leaf statue by the beach and the preparations all around it. “I don’t know if anyone really does spend their Summer holiday lazing around eating chocolates, but our dear Tutors seem to expect it.” She looked up at the rounded statue, impressed. “Looks like they’re ready to start – it’s odd they’ve not lit the fires yet.”

    “The moon’s up, but they can’t see it from there on the beach yet,” Tahni grinned, the spotted hyena gesturing to the steep ridge that shielded the village from the East. “It’s always the last village to start the moon and dawn festivals. Good timing for us.”

    “Good timing – and a good view too!” As they entered the village Ada Cronstein’s tail thrashed, at the sight of a slender feline with blonde head-fur, standing aloof on the beach and looking on with an expression of  bored disdain. “That’s her!”

    Prudence laughed. “Nah, den. Not so fast. Remember last month? She was none so keen to stay for breakfast wi’ us.” Her long ears flowed in the evening breeze as she looked around; many assumed she was a foreign breed such as a Saluki or Borzoi, and addressed her in halting Russian or Arabic. Her real ancestry was a humbler mix of greyhound and spaniel that happened to blend in a close approximation to the more refined breeds; in a Lancashire mill town there were no social stigmas involved to being born without a pedigree.
    “She was out of there like her tail was on fire.” Ada agreed. She sighed. “I don’t mind if she’s not a morning person. Belle only sees her Miss Cooper once a year, not once a month. Still she’s well worth waiting for.”

    Prudence shook her head, smiling. Being in charge of this dorm was a lot of hard work – but then, she supposed that was true of every Songmark dorm leader. The only exception was Missy K, who professed not to care about the two she led by default, what with Beryl usually questing for a Nobel Prize for the perfect crime or Adele being permanently on the sharp end of a world of painful misfortune. Prudence looked around at her three friends; they had finished the Summer term with the highest points ranking of the five second-year dorms. Once she could persuade Ada to stop daydreaming the girl usually buckled down to use her very considerable talents, at least the ones she could show in public. Belle and Carmen were solid through and through, but Ada showed flashes of true genius.

Her muzzle wrinkled, as she imagined being stuck with Missy K or Madeleine X.  Irma Bundt and Adele Beasley had been briefly with her dorm in the first year and been pleasant enough company in their way, before the Tutors had spotted their lack of common interests. Any of Amelia’s dorm – well, they were nice to look at but that would be decidedly all. What had happened to Molly was a crime she felt more keenly than most of her year did.

    She hefted the knapsack on her back, hearing the Nootnops Blue bottles inside clink. “We’d best get these to t’ elders, can’t go to a party wi’ empty paws,” she reminded her adventurous trio. “And then, Ada – good luck.”

Angelica took awhile to notice that she was not the only Euro on the beach. She had heard that South Island was the only “Native” island that they could go to without a guide, and indeed guides were recommended there outside the hotel strip. Having lived for weeks on Main Island hearing almost nothing but Spontoonie accents, her ears perked up at the sound of a civilised voice.

    “I didn’t think there were any tourists left,” she commented, spotting a khaki-clad figure wandering up the beach. “I recognise him – that’s the shell collector.” The slightly dishevelled goat was dictating to a wind-up pocket wax cylinder recorder as he walked studying the sands intently, apparently in search of a prettier or smarter lugworm.
    Monoteha cast a glance to the approaching Euro. “Tourist boats all home now, the big ones,” she agreed. “All year we see travellers, they come through on the way to other islands, maybe any time.” She frowned. “He should have guide here. Get onto Main Island from Euro yacht, not water-taxi I think.” She waved out to sea where a very expensive “J-Class” sailing yacht was going through its paces after refitting at Casino Island. “Most furs they busy today with festival, no expecting tourist.” The water-taxi pilots were scrupulous about only delivering Euros into the paws of qualified guides, and waving a pawfull of shells to be put down somewhere unauthorised would cut no ice with them.

    Angelica looked around, but could see no sign of Constable Pohovic. The stallion was someone she had been keeping a wary eye on since arriving; he would have probably been the one whose duty it would have been to deport her had anyone pressed charges with her unauthorised stay or irregularities with selling pearls. Suddenly her ears blushed. What am I thinking? She asked herself angrily. He’s a civilised fur, a French scientist, and I’m taking the villagers’ side in thinking he’s trespassing? All the night-shift work was ruining her thinking, she feared; that or exposure to noxious banana fumes while sleeping in the Popoluma longhouse.

    Just then Kama’s pet came frisking out of the surf, looking for its kitten friend. The metre-long Abyssal Entity cocked its front end inquisitively, apparently making do without eyes, ears or anything similar by substituting a sufficiently curious attitude.

    The goat ten yards away stood rigid in amazement, the wax recorder falling out of his hoof. “C’est impossible! Une Beche de Mer, ici? Incroyable!” His eyes bulged at the sight of something that science only knew from thousand fathom deep sea dredging, cheerfully waddling up the beach onto dry land of its own accord. As Angelica had frequently pointed out to Kama, this was of course impossible.

French Biologist & Kama's 'pet' -- art by Andersson & Barber

    Angelica looked on in amusement as the naturalist edged closer, evidently unable to believe his eyes. The happy Holothurian wriggled its posterior end and raised itself up from the paw-deep water to evidently survey the beach, though with what sense organs was a mystery. “At least that’s made somebody’s day,” she commented dryly, turning to the native otter. “When does the party start around here? It’s nearly dark.” The sun had vanished nearly an hour ago behind the volcanic peak by Sacred Lake, and only the distant top of Mount Kiribatori was still bathed in late evening light.

    “When moon she rise,” Monoteha gestured at the Eastern horizon. “Priestess she light fires, bless them too. All give thanks for tourist season – and double thanks, that it finished now.” Her expression was suddenly serious. “And to ask spirits to send another full tourist season next year.  Not to finish like Halleton Beach. First Pacific island to build for tourists, after Gunboat Wars, over in Vanierge. Only empty streets of houses they falling in today, dust blow down them. Like mining town in desert, years after mine she run dry.”

    “It wasn’t a tidal wave or anything that did for that resort,” Hamoha added, the lean grey hound looking worried. “They just had some bad luck. A few highly public crimes involving tourists, an outbreak of typhoid – and the local newspapers were so keen for any sort of news they put it all on the front pages.” He shook his head. “Holiday resorts are like film stars – once they lose their reputations in a scandal, how good they are doesn’t matter any more to the public. Holidays out here are expensive, and with just a bit of bad press people decide to go elsewhere next year.”
    “Guides, they very careful with tourists, sometimes in ways tourists never see,” Monoteha’s broad tail twitched. “We make joke about it, yes – but always must think ten paces ahead, like boat captain she see water break on reef before run ashore.”

    Just then there was a commotion behind them. Angelica turned, and her tail and ears went right up in shock. The naturalist was there, and Kama had found her friend – who was now thrashing in a large net the goat must have had in his collecting satchel.

    “No!” Kama’s wail was shrill and heartbreaking. “No! No!”

    The collector leaned down to pat her head-fur. “It is only a beche-de-mer, mon petit,” he said kindly. “It is, you say, a delicacy. But for you I have chocolate. See!” He pulled out a foil-wrapped bar and offered it.

    Angelica had done rather well at school in the hundred-yard dash, and it would have made her old Games Mistress proud to see the speed at which she crossed the beach. “You let that go! That’s Kama’s friend.”

    The collector drew himself up stiffly. “Mademoiselle,” he said, looking her up and down “I shall not. I am Monsieur De Ruille of the Sorbonne, and I have collected and researched across the Pacific. It is my specimen.” He reached into his pocket, and pulled out a folded paper. “My license, fully paid. To collect fish and shellfish from below the high tide mark. The Althing have approved it.”

    “I’ve seen Natural History museums,” Angelica looked down to where Kama was scrabbling at the net, which the goat had his foot firmly on. “They pickle specimens in big jars.”

    “But yes! This is a unique specimen, unknown I believe to science! Its dissection will be the talk of the Institute.” Monsieur De Ruille raised an eyebrow. “It is a primitive creature, I tell you. It does not have “friends.” I shall pay the village three francs a kilo for the meat, and that is that. Now kindly stand aside.”

    Angelica glanced down to where Kama was still trying frantically to unpick the net. The license did look perfectly valid, and apart from being on Main Island without a guide there was nothing she could use as a legal argument. In five minutes the goat could be gone with a dead specimen to be preserved in formaldehyde, and the Natives were almost religiously dedicated to not causing trouble for tourists.

    It’s a good thing, Angelica found time to remind herself as she hit him, that I’m not a Native.

“Ey, tha’ reckon’s yon lass, she’s been taking lessons?” Prudence Akroyd watched the debate from fifty yards away. “She’s got style there.”

    “Knocked him flat with one punch, right to the point of the jaw,” Ada Cronstein nodded appreciatively. “It’s very hard to knock out someone your own size in one punch, never mind what they do in the movies. Oh, he’s getting up again.” She watched as a small kitten and a friendly invertebrate made a break for the waves, vanishing underwater in seconds. Kama was at home in the seas as well as in the jungles. “Ooh! He missed. Good swerve, Angelica. Do you think she needs any help?”

    Belle’s ears were right up, watching the fight. “No, I don’t think so. There she goes! I’d use that “Legionnaire’s Trick” if I was her – but maybe they didn’t teach it in her old school.”

    “I think only Beryl learned that one in school,” Ada commented, her eyes dreamy. “Anyway, the sand’s not firm enough. What, back somersault and forward flip on that surface? And she’s wearing native sandals, hardly ideal. Still – oh, he’s down, nice one, he won’t be getting up from that in a hurry.”

    “Just in time. Here comes the police.” Belle waved towards a grey-furred equine in shorts and an official-looking air trotted over, notebook out. “Shall we go and act as character witness?”

    Ada sighed, a dreamy expression washing over her face. “Oh, my. Won’t I just.”

    Prudence elbowed her jokingly. “Give owwer, lass. Tha’s not the sort o’ testimonial they want. Any road, locals will know best what’s proper.”

    Ada’s snout wrinkled. “I suppose. I don’t want to see Angelica getting arrested though. Not if I can help it.” She turned to the Native rabbit girl at her side. “Tobonule? If you’d tell them we’d like to help, I’d be grateful. We do first-aid, too!”

As the moon finally rose over the ridge, a Priestess lit the fire on the beach and with a cheer the villagers waved their torches and sent many unhappy or uncomfortable memories up in smoke.
    Angelica sat by the fireside, feeling most peculiar. A girl from a good school, she told herself, does not go about emulating a Saint T’s graduate and assaulting distinguished academics. On the other paw, she reflected, she had certainly saved Kama’s pet from being dissected and pickled. She remembered what her friend Amelia had said about her new school on Eastern Island; they taught all the techniques but let the students alone to worry about right and wrong – or to not worry at all, if they wished.

She had been officially cautioned by Constable Pohovic, who had quite spoilt the effect by broadly winking at her. The goat had been led away for first-aid treatment and a firm escort back to Casino Island, but not before his license had been “accidentally” lost at sea. Monoteha had whispered that he would probably wear out his tail on Meeting Island filling in forms to get a replacement copy that somehow would become far more difficult than the original.

    “You did the right thing,” came a voice from behind her. She turned to see a young badger girl, one of the priestess Oharu’s assistants. “Kama is beloved by the Spirits, they sent her friend up from the deep waters of the Nimitz Sea to be with her. It was an empty vessel – but the Spirits ride with it.”

    Angelica’s whiskers bristled, though she accepted the glass of Nootnops Blue the badger offered her. “You’re Ote’he, aren’t you?”  You’re one of the ones who got me in this mess.”

    A pair of round ears drooped. “I am Nuimba, Ote’he she is my sister. Yes, it was our doing.” She paused. “I would undo the curse if I could. For what you did today, if nothing else.”

    Angelica’s ears blushed, fortunately invisibly in the firelight. It was a complex emotion; she liked Kama and could imagine the kitten’s grief if her friend was killed. But now she had taken the islander’s side against Euros, when she had so often looked down on the natives. Even the fact that she was worrying about that was embarrassing. She remembered so many films and books where Science and Civilisation had triumphed over ancient tradition and prejudice as the treasure-seeker or explorer got away with the Native’s property – and here she was, suddenly on the other side. “Just what did that ritual welcoming me to the village DO to me?” she asked. “Is it another curse like the last one?

    “No it isn’t!” Nuimba replied hotly, then pulled herself together. “We wouldn’t do that. We’re not allowed to call on the Spirits for our personal gain.” She looked Angelica up and down, slowly, her tail trembling. “No. We’re not. No matter how much we want to. I’m really, really not allowed.” With that she stood up, and dashed off into the night.

    Angelica sipped the Nootnops Blue, and frowned. What had all that been about? She had wanted to talk more about Nuimba and her curse. And the badger had been distinctly pretty. She was amazed she had never noticed it before.

    As she looked up, her tail twitched. The moon was full, and it was a lovely evening. The native band were blowing up a storm on an unlikely mix of instruments, ranging from Hawaiian slack-key guitar to something that looked like a desk with two radio aerials sticking up from the top,  with arcane wailing noises coming from its loudspeaker as a grass-skirted musician waved his paws in the air above it. Oddly enough, another native was rapidly pedalling a bicycle generator attached to a cable feeding the odd box.

    “This might not be Casino Island, but if it’s the only dance around – I’ll make the most of it.” After this, Angelica reflected, there was nothing in her diary but night sailing and large quantities of cold dead fish. She smiled, feeling herself inexplicably relax as she stood up and felt her tail twitching, drawn to the music and the firelight. Perhaps it would not be such a bad evening after all.

Nuimba, Tehepoa, & Ote'he -- on probation -- art by Freddy Andersson
    “I hope our Shishou Oharu appreciates this.” Nuimba stood outside the firelight, watching the dances with her sister and their leader Tehepoa.  The badger’s ears were drooping. “The one night of the month she’d be … interested in me.  It’s a waste.”

    “I don’t think anything’s going to go to waste.” Tehepoa’s fox brush swished; evidently he was enjoying the view. “There’s Angelica, dancing with that Songmark dorm already. Oharu doesn’t mind that. For you to take advantage that way … no. Definitely not.”

    “Because I helped curse her in the first place. Because that would be taking advantage for personal gain. I know, Tehepoa. Spare me.” The young badger snapped.

    “I’d spare you. The Shishou Oharu wouldn’t. Not a bit, she wouldn’t. I DO want to speak with the spirits again, preferably before my fur turns grey,” Tehepoa said seriously. “And I’m in charge of you, she says. We all have to make sacrifices.”

    “Well. I’m glad Angelica rescued that pet of Kama’s, anyway. That was good of her.” Nuimba scratched a round black ear thoughtfully. “That has to count for something against our curse. It’s the first sign she’s done something respectful of our people rather than hers.”

    “Yes.” Tehepoa looked on, thoughtfully. “If only we could still ask the Spirits about it! The curse, it’s not something you can just measure like petrol in a fuel tank, and see how much there’s left. I think that when it breaks, it’ll smash like glass.”

    “And then – Oharu might intercede with us, to return our powers?” Ote’he asked hopefully.

    “We can hope. A lot of it’ll depend on how much we’ve helped Angelica. Oharu hasn’t said so, but I’m pretty sure. Right now – we’re tasked with watching over her, seeing she comes to no harm.” His ears perked up. “Nuimba. There’s no reason you have to stay out here.” He gestured towards the dance. “Enjoy yourself. Think of it as close support. Very close support. We’ll cover.”

    A pair of nocturnal badger eyes gleamed in the firelight. “You don’t have to ask me twice!” Though Angelica was strictly off-limits (and indeed seemed to be about to be swept off her paws by one of the Songmark canines) there was no shortage of dancing partners. And unlike some religions, being a (trainee) Priestess of the local deities was absolutely no bar in having a thoroughly fun time.

Angelica had only once been well and truly drunk, so drunk that she awoke with her head spinning and her stomach tying itself in knots. She had sworn never to do that again, and had never since then been remotely tempted.

    There are worse things, she told herself. Looking up, she saw the kind of thing she had dreamed about so often while at the Popoluma household – a proper plaster ceiling in a comfortable room with glass windows, and underneath her was a soft and comfortable bed the like of which she had not felt in months – not since before arriving in Spontoon, in fact. She remembered the guesthouse was in Main Village, and remembered being extremely glad to close and lock the door. The key was somewhere, but not in the lock

    It was everything else she remembered, that was the problem. Such as who she had danced with, five dancing partners until the moon rose to its highest and then choosing one for the long, romantic walk across to Main Village. I wish I had been drunk, she thought, that wouldn’t be an excuse but it’d be something to blame. I’ve done this twice now. She lay in the comfy bed as rigid as a log, desperately trying not to move and wake the other occupant. Even had she awoken with no memory of the night before, the mixed musks hanging languorously heavy in the still air would have been a sure clue.

    Ada Cronstein lay lightly asleep and relaxed like a finest quality fur rug draped over the sheets, occasionally moving a little. Her foot twitched slightly, and with a blush Angelica remembered only a few hours ago being delighted to discover it thrashed like a four-legged hound if the canine girl was tickled under the ribs. She was sleeping only in her fur, as was Angelica herself – their clothes were mixed and scattered in a jumble that started at the door and ended at the bed. Instantly grabbing hers and heading up at top speed into the forest again was not an option; they were in the middle of Main Village and Angelica did not relish the idea of dressing as she ran at full tilt through the busy streets.

    Just when she thought things could not get any worse, they did. “Room service!” Came a cheerful voice from outside, accompanied by a sharp rapping at the door.  Angelica instinctively sat up in panic, the bedclothes falling off her. Before she could think of any way of silently telling the staff to go away, the door opened and a cheerful young Tanuki waiter pushed in a laden trolley. He showed no trace of embarrassment, or even surprise. “Complements of the house, ma’m,” he tipped an invisible hat, removed the dish covers to reveal a steaming fresh fish breakfast, and left closing the door behind him.

    Angelica stared after him speechless for a few seconds, until things suddenly went further downhill for her. She turned to see the canine now wide awake and looking at her as if the breakfast was the second most inviting thing in the room.

"Eek, I'm Tailfast!" Ada, waiter, & Angelica -- Art by Freddy Andersson

    “Well, hello again,” Ada Cronstein said, looking up into her eyes. “To coin a phrase – we have to keep meeting like this.” She stroked a twisted braid of two different fur colours, one of which Angelica realised all too well was her own. “It’s not an official Tailfast ring if it’s not been blessed at Sacred Island – but it’s the thought that counts.”

    Angelica looked down and discovered she wore one just like it, only with the fur colours reversed. Her panicked scream did not reach back to disturb the Popoluma kittens on the North coast; but again, it was a very close-run thing.


Spontoon Island webpages ©2011 Ken Fletcher
All rights revert to the contributors - their collaborative contributions
are ©2011 Simon Barber, ©2011 David Reese Dorrycott,
& ©2011 Fredrik K T Andersson - rights reserved include story characters.
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