No Time for Caterpillars

“Mom, look!” I point so fast my hand smacks the scented pine tree hanging from her rearview mirror. It’s been there so long I don’t think it has any smell left, but whatever.

“What?” She doesn’t look up. She’s on Bumble, which is just weird. I mean, I get it, Dad’s been gone a long time, like, years, but still, it’s weird. Cami told me it could be worse, she could be on Tinder, which is just gross, but it’s also true, thank the gods, which was her point.

“A wizard! Mom! There’s a wizard crossing the street. A real wizard.”

Mom looks up, sorta, and says, “You mean that homeless guy?” and goes back to swiping. 

“Ohmigods, that was not a homeless guy. Look, he has—.” He was gone. I swear I saw a wizard. He walked right in front of me, using the crosswalk and everything. I mean, he kinda looked like a homeless guy, but head this stick that was really a staff, with, like, runes carved into it in these cool swirling patterns. And his clothes just weren’t from here. I don’t mean he went up to Denver to some fancy mall like Cherry Creek, either. Those threads were not from this realm.The weirdest part, though, is he looked kinda familiar.

“Light’s green, honey.” I looked up, and it was, so I checked both ways to be sure, because lights don’t kill people, cars being driven by idiots do, and I kept my hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock as accelerated smoothly through the intersection of this boring-ass town toward the DMV so I could take my test. Then she says, “He kinda looked like that guy from the tow truck commercial.” 

My mom is so random. “What tow truck commercial?” 

“The one where the guy says, ‘not my problem.’” She almost sounds a little dreamy when she says it. “He had shaggy hair, and that beard…”  

My mom has a thing for long hair and beards. If Gandalf was taking applications for groupies, she’d be up all night polishing her resume. “Maybe if you keep swiping, he’ll pop up.”

She laughs and smacks my shoulder, not hard, and says, “Keep your eyes on the road, you brat.”

*

Seriously the worst thing about stupid real life is standing in line. The line for the driver’s test is literally out the door, and the computer is down, because of course it is, so some lady is handing out numbers handwritten on pieces of copy paper, and I’m number 218. Mom doesn’t care, she’s swiping and texting some guy with long hair and a beard who installs ATMs, and she took the whole day off from work, so she’s in la-la land. 

I’m glad we’re outside, not in that moldy old DMV office, because today is one of those days with just enough cloud to split the sunlight into beams shining down onto the alfalfa fields and, the mountains in the distance, and there’s enough breeze that the cottonwood cotton is drifting around like it’s snowing, only it’s not cold. It rained last night, so it even smells good, like clean dirt, if you know what I mean.

This line is sooo long and Mom and I are standing next to one of the ornamental plum trees that Dad planted here before he left—he was in charge of landscaping for the town—and some kind of caterpillar is wiggling its way out of its cocoon, which is hanging from the tree, so I snap a picture and sent it to Cami since just the other night her mom gave her a speech about how kids our age are like caterpillars in cocoons and one day soon after the braces and pimples and hormones, we’ll be beautiful butterflies, and Cami was more than a little underwhelmed about it.

Cami sent back, Too soon.

I sent her a hug and a heart and a unicorn just for fun. 

Where u at?

DMV, Adultland, Lamesville, number 218 in line.

Go with all the gods…LOL…It’s worth it. 

Cami already had her license, and I owed her like a million rides.

A puff of wind comes through and the caterpillar sways, so I step back so he doesn’t hit me. I bump Mom’s phone out of her hand and bend down to pick it up.

Thock!

I look around. Nothing. I hand Mom her phone. She goes back to swiping. Then I see it.

A four-pointed throwing star lodged in the ornamental plum, right behind me. If I hadn’t bent over to pick up Mom’s phone…It has to be a prank. I look around again. Nobody is doing anything but looking at their phones. That’s all anybody does these days unless they’re trying to get a video of you looking like a dumbass so they can post it online. 

The throwing star looks like steel, but maybe not, it’s shiny gray with lines of silver running through it, almost like hematite, but nobody would make a throwing star out of hematite. There are runes carved in it too, well, maybe not runes, exactly, but something, and as I watch, they flicker, one after the other, like the metal is charged with some sort of current or…okay, I’ll say it, magic. 

“Okay,” I say to nobody, “I’ll bite.” I mean, why not, I’ve got nothing else to do while I wait for 217 people to do whatever they gotta do at the DMV.

The metal is cold in my hand, colder than the day around me. It’s ridged, just a little bit, where the two colors of metal are forged together. And it seems like there’s a little bit of a vibration, a hum trapped inside it. It feels good in my hand. So I pull it out of the ornamental plum tree.

*

The first thing I notice is that the plum tree isn’t a plum tree. It’s got a hole in it right in front of the throwing star I’m holding, but it’s some kind of giant birch, and instead of being a pale white, the papery bark glows, and the leaves are these blazing reds and yellows, scarlet and crimson and gold, and they glow too, which is a good thing because the leaves are so dense I can’t see what sort of sky they are hiding. 

The forest floor feels soft underneath my feet and, ohmigods, I’m wearing, I guess it’s a tunic, and tights, sort of like in a Robin Hood movie, and I’ve got a set of throwing knives on my belt. I don’t know how I know that’s what they are, but I do, and for no reason I can name, I duck, and right after I do, I hear a Thock! just like the last one, and I fling the star in my hand toward where I think the bastard throwing them at me might be and get behind the tree. I see a giant fallen log that looks like better cover and I get behind that.

Thock! 

Whoever it is is chucking these things at me is really pissing me off. I grab a throwing knife with both hands and climb start working my way toward the far end of the log. A hand wraps around my mouth and another around my waist. I scream and thrash, but whoever it is is too strong, and I don’t make a noise or get anywhere. 

Then I hear a voice I never thought I’d hear again. “Dani, it’s me, calm down.” 

It’s Dad.

I relax. He lets me go and I twist to look at him. He’s let his hair grow long, and he’s got a beard now. 

Thock!

“Come on,” he says, “there’s at least five of them. We’ve got to get out of here.”

He picks up a carved staff, and I recognize the swirling rune patterns carved into it. And then we’re off, scrambling through the forest, and it’s all I can do to keep up with him. I should be scared, but all I can think is thank all the gods I’m not at the DMV.


Prompted by CLC (caterpillar, throwing star, DMV).

Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.

Photo by Dmitry Vechorko on Unsplash