Back In Wonderland

In Locke's estimation it took approximately forever for Anna to fall asleep. Considering how ancient a being he was, one would assume he would have more patience, but that only applied under normal circumstances. Waiting for a young woman to finish her toilette and actually fall asleep, however, was nothing like the normal circumstances for Locke. He still couldn't figure out exactly what took her so long or exactly what she was doing for all that time in the bathroom. He had tried to push the door open once but she'd promptly pushed it closed - with him on the other side still. He had been quite put out by that, but he could only sulk so long. She didn't come out until after he had already gotten bored of that and found a comfy spot to curl up.

At that point she had come out and shoo'd him off her spot, trying to explain to him that he got the lower part of the bed, and only a small fraction of that. Of course Locke had learned by this time that if he waited until she fell asleep she wouldn't object to him sneaking up to curl up against her. But she had to make this appearance of not needing him and not spoiling him. They both pretended to play along to some extent, although Locke was pretty sure that wouldn't last for very long. She had started out buying him the fish, and she had finally given up on the diet kibble.

Finally he knew she had sunk into sleep, her breathing even and her heart slowed. For a few minutes Locke was tempted to just snuggle in and sleep for a little while, but he knew he really shouldn't. There was work to be done. Just because he was checking out a new owner didn't mean he no longer had responsibilities. The shop still had clients, and Locke still had to settle them into this realm.

So he left a semblance of himself - well, technically a portion of himself - on the bed and transported himself to Haven, although he did not deign to make himself visible when he arrived. Much quicker that way, not to mention it allowed him to see how things were going without making it too obvious that he was observing things.

"I know you're here, you arrogant old sod." The owner was leaning against the counter, a book open before him. He hadn't even bothered to look up. He was in a dressing gown and had a cup of tea on the counter, clearly expecting Locke to make an appearance.

Locke's eyes narrowed as he stared at the old man leaning casually as he slurped his tea. A moment later a large presence distorted the air in front of the counter. What appeared was never described in any literature, just hinted at. There were no illustrations in any book or manuscript - at least no correct ones - and there was no entry in any bestiary, mythical or otherwise. The closest to be found were shadows on cave walls, abstract shapes that held no details. Of course, the old man could see details, but whether or not they were the same others saw was unknown. Locke had never worried about how others envisioned his true form as it truly was irrelevant, at least to him.

"You have become ungrateful. Clearly it is more than time for me to find a new companion." For a moment the world held its breath, and then Locke, in feline form, curled himself up on the counter once more. Disdain was in every line of his body, as only a cat can manage, but the old man knew perfectly well that there was much affection between them, even if neither ever showed it.

"Hmph. Well there are new arrivals to be taken care of, so if your magnificence is done insulting me, can we get on with it so I can get some rest?" In truth the old man slept little, after all these years, but it was true that there were new arrivals who needed to be cared for, interviewed, and settled in. "Unless you have more important things to do like preening."

Locke did not deign to answer the old man, instead padding across the counter to the ledger which flipped open of its own accord. Pages flipped until it reached the last one with entries. "Ah. Well well. It is good to see they made it through safely. How are our new guests doing?" Any of the former mockery was gone from his voice, leaving only genuine interest, albeit the interest a king shows for his subjects, but in the past that was not so far from the truth and none argued the right of Locke to take that particular position, especially considering all he did for those creatures that found their way to him.

A loud sound, something between a squashed goose and a lawnmower, came from behind a curtain in the back and the old man winced slightly.  It was followed quickly by a yowl. "Could be better. The chimera caught the sniffles. Having a heck of a time keeping her from setting fire to the other animals every time she sneezes. Who knew the range was so impressive on the little tyke?" The old man rubbed a hand over his head, then gave a quick check to his eyebrows, assuring himself they hadn't been singed off. It had been a close thing.

His ears flattening, Locke glanced back at the curtain. "We'll have to call someone about that. Can't have her leaving the shop until she is quite well. Perhaps Mugrir…" Locke contemplated, amused at the thought. At least until the old man let out a guffaw. "Ah yes. I forgot. The last time. Quite right. Well then, call the next on the list, see if they have any suggestions. In the meantime-."

"Heat and plenty of it, send in the basilisk. I know. You'd think I'd never done this."

"Yes, yes. I know you are very capable. I was just trying to be helpful, keep from leaving such a burden on you." The sarcasm practically dripped. Or it could have been the tiny drop of drool that escaped Locke's mouth. He had not quite taken into account the full mechanics of the particular jaw structure he had chosen. The scent of charred fish may have something to do with the issue also.

"Mermaid?" he asked nonchalantly, hoping the old man did not notice as a paw was lifted, grooming along his jaw to hide the bit of drool.

"Keeps refusing to stay in the tub, wants to walk around. Until his legs give out. I suppose that makes him less a mermaid, but I can never understand what it is they keep trying to tell me to call them." The old man's eyes twinkled with merciless glee as he remembered that particular exchange. Of course he knew perfectly well how they preferred to be addressed, but he had to have some amusements.

Locke rumbled softly, but let it go. He too agreed that that particular breed could be rather full of themselves and quite demanding when forced to reside on land for any time. And they smelled of fish, which currently was making him rather hungry. He would have to ensure that Anna procured some fresh fish for him tomorrow.

"The rest, well they are settling in for now. Getting a mite crowded in here though. Any chance you can find some of the beasties another place for the time being?" It was true, the shop was looking rather crowded with cages stacked in every available space, more creatures roaming between.

Locke's paw slapped down on the counter, pinning an imp below his paw, an imperious glare making his feelings on the scamp rather clear. "So I see. Might want to cage this one before it can get into more mischief." The old man looked down and let out an expletive before he carefully snagged the imp, holding it cautiously while it chittered and flashed impressively sharp teeth. "Mugrir can take a few creatures to his  place. What about the cerberus? How is it doing with potty training?" Hearing that particular phrase coming from Locke was quite amusing, but it was also clear he was genuinely interested and concerned. Although the Greeks used Cerberus as a proper name, in truth it was a species name. Or perhaps the species name came from that one specimen. Locke had known at one point but had long since forgotten which had come first.

The puppy in question poked a head out from the back room. And then another. Drool slathered the jowls and dripped to the floor, scorching slightly. Locke wiped his own face, just to ensure he looked nothing like that. There was a soft woof, then the third head and the body came into view. The third head was dragging what appeared to be a slipper - a very soggy one at that - occasionally shaking it while the other heads closed their eyes to avoid the projectile spittle.

"Bad dog!" shouted the old man when he spotted the slipper. More specifically, his slipper, or what had been his slipper. Now it was a soggy mass that he wouldn't put near his foot in a million years. The heads turned his direction, then looked at one another, the one with the slipper hanging low in dejection, the others looking at it with condemnation. The pup was well aware it was in trouble now. The stubby tail began to wag, eyes getting wide, in hopes that adorableness could save it. Might have worked aside from the steaming slobber and the fact that it smelled rather strongly of brimstone. Yes, it took a special kind of person to love a cerberus.

Locke flashed a feline grin for just a moment, then caught a whiff of the pup, or more specifically the mess the pup had clearly left behind the curtain. "It appears you have everything well in hand. I shall return tomorrow, and send Mugrir by to collect a few of the animals." With that, he was gone, but not before he heard a wail and quite a few more expletives as the old man caught the scent that had sent Locke fleeing.

There was a very feline grin of satisfaction on Locke's face as he curled himself on Anna's pillow, right beside her head, and began to purr. Yes, he would miss the old man, but it was time for a change for both of them. He just hoped Anna was up to what was coming.

The End

0 comments about this story Feed