Broommates: Rue the Day

Part 11 of the serial Broommates. Start from the beginning or read the previous episode or click the “Broommates” link at the top of the page to see the full list.

* * * * *

The plan had worked. He’d made it inside, and now he needed to find a place to put the package. The boss had been very specific about it needing darkness and warmth… He scurried through the walls, feeling his way around pockets of magic that made his beard itch. Too cold, too dry–there! Perfect. He wedged his burden behind a giant metal drum that gave off a steady heat. That done, he climbed up to the attic, eased his way out through the vent hole and clambered down a nearby trellis, disappearing into the night without a trace.

Back inside, the package trembled. It was almost time.

* * * * *

Miranda curled up on the couch with a cup of mint tea, her arm resting on the back of the sofa. That McIntyre kid had been more of a nuisance than usual; it had taken their full hour session just to finish his math homework, and the gods knew he wasn’t in summer school because he was a genius. She needed to hit Trudy up for more consulting work because this tutoring business was getting old. Had always been old, really.

“Hello, Miss Miranda,” said an echoing voice from the corner of the living room.

“Ambrose, hi,” she said. “What have you been up to today?”

He materialized in front of her, a young black man in clothes from what looked like the Civil War era. He was translucent and slightly blue at the edges, but otherwise normal enough looking. For a ghost, anyway. With a lopsided grin, he took a seat.

“Today was very good, miss. I put together a puzzle that Miss Kitty left out for me. It was very large and took me all day.”

“Nice, very–ow! What the hell?” She held up her hand and examined it.

“Are you all right, miss?”

“It felt like something bit my finger.”

“Oh, the small bird-thing? I thought it was your new pet.”

Miranda frowned. Dark gray tendrils spread from a triangle-shaped bite mark down the veins of her finger and shot through her palm, then toward her elbow. Surely it couldn’t be…

“Ambrose, get help, quick!” she shrieked. The mug fell from her limp left hand, shattering on the floor. Her right hand landed on the sofa with a thud, already too stiff to move.

* * * * *

“Something bit her?” Beatrice asked.

Ambrose nodded, wringing his ghostly hands. “It looked like a, a half-grown chicken.”

“Not trained for this,” she muttered. “Where’s Booker?”

Within minutes, Booker was kneeling next to Miranda, his face paling when he saw her arm. He clutched a musty tome with a cured leather cover. “D-did this bird have a tail?” he asked. “Scaly? Like a lizard’s?”

Ambrose nodded. “Now that you mention it–”

“What is it?” Beatrice asked.

Booker tapped Miranda’s arm, which was hard and gray up to the elbow and spreading. Her breathing was shallow, her skin ashen and hot. He bent over to look under the sofa. “G-given her symptoms and the d-d-description, I’m r-really afraid it m-might be…” He trailed off, reaching out to retrieve a short black feather.  After flipping a few pages in his book, he held it up to Ambrose.

“It did look a bit like that,” Ambrose said.

“Smaller? Younger?”

“I suppose.”

Booker groaned. “Cockatrice. And it’s loose in the house? Oh, god. We’ll have to be careful or we’ll be next. Lucky it was a j-juvenile or we’d already be too late.”

“Too late for what?” Beatrice asked. “What’s happening?”

“Miranda is turning to stone.”

* * * * *

Booker might as well have moved his bed into the house’s library; his room sported bookshelves on every wall, with more books piled on the floor in neat stacks. Beatrice kept watch for the creature as he darted about, muttering to himself and occasionally nabbing a particular tome. By the time he stopped, his arms were full.

“R-right,” he said. “We can g-go through these in the d-dining room.”

“Why are you stuttering?” Beatrice asked.

Booker’s face did its best imitation of a beet. “I d-d-d…” Swallowing hard, he pushed past her and went down the stairs, carefully depositing his books on the dining room table. He sat down and grabbed the nearest book.

“What are you looking for?”

He glanced up at Beatrice. “An antidote to cockatrice venom,” he replied, enunciating carefully. “The problem is, I don’t think there is one.”

“There must be.” She checked under the table and made a circuit of the room. Monster-free. “For every yin, there is a yang.”

“I’ve read all these books,” he said, waving his hand at them. “My memory is… good. And I remember two things about cockatrices: weasels are good at killing them, and their bite is inevitably deadly.”

“Yet you still seek another answer?”

He shrugged. “Maybe I missed something. It’s better than watching her turn into a statue.”

Beatrice laid a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you.”

His face and neck grew flushed again, but he smiled.

* * * * *

Miranda’s left arm was fully stone, hard as marble; her shoulder was hardening and the rest of her was still fevered. Beatrice wiped her unconscious friend’s forehead with a cold cloth and did what she could to keep the woman’s sluggish prana moving through her chakras. With every passing second, Miranda got worse.

“I think I’ve found something,” Booker said, kneeling next to her and pointing at a few lines of text.

“Don’t read Latin,” she said.

“Oh. Well, Bartholomaeus corresponds roughly with Bullfinch and a few others on how weasels survive when…” He saw Beatrice staring at him and cleared his throat. “Um, w-we might try a tea made from rue.”


“Rue is poisonous in high doses. She could die.”

“She will die if we do nothing.”

“We may not even have any,” he confessed. “Miranda’s the resident herbalist, and Kitty’s off at work.”

Beatrice grabbed his arm and stood up, hauling him to his feet. “Let’s go look.”

They tore the kitchen apart but couldn’t find anything in Miranda’s meticulously labeled bottles and bags. Ambrose followed behind them, trying to replace everything in alphabetical order. Booker finally snapped and yelled at him, “Why don’t you stop cleaning up and start helping us find the damn rue!”

“Oh, is that what you wanted?” Ambrose asked. “Miss Miranda keeps it in her closet. For the moths, I think.”

Beatrice made it up the stairs first. Sure enough, in a corner of the closet was a small pouch labeled “Rue.”

Unfortunately, there was also a hissing cockatrice staring her in the face.

* * * * *

Part 12: The Future’s So Bright

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10 Responses to “Broommates: Rue the Day”

  1. 2mara says:

    Damn it! Why must you always leave me hanging?


  2. peggy says:

    Wonderful cliffhanger! The action and pacing is fantastic in this episode. Your characters really pop too.

  3. Ohh, I must go back and read the whole thing. Damned day that has limited hours!

    Loved the installment! I need to dive in this world of yours Valerie. So interesting! 🙂

  4. Very exciting!
    Loved “feeling his way around pockets of magic that made his beard itch”

    Th seemingly random stuttering worked well too, brought out the tension even more

  5. Pamila Payne says:

    This is delightful. Now I must go back and read the whole thing…

  6. Sam says:

    Beatrice will rue the day she looked in the closet! Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😀 Another great episode, I’m really looking forward to see how they get themselves out of this one.

  7. Very cool installment this week. The beginning drew me in, the middle delivered, and the ending left me breathless. Excellent job!

  8. John Wiswell says:

    Thanks for playing, lady. A cockatrice winks in your face and unless the chicken’s got contacts, you’re out of the sequel!

  9. Valerie says:

    Thanks for reading, all. Creative license, John! I had decided that basilisks would have the death vision but cockatrices would have to bite you. And it’s just a baby so it’s not strong enough yet anyway, as noted. But in the interests of preserving the integrity of the myth, Beatrice will meet with unfortunate consequences in the next episode.

  10. Xanto says:

    What a pretty birdie! 😀 I’m hoping Booker can come through under pressure.

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