Editor's note: This story began with another story, "With No Announcement."
Well, that wasn't what I'd intended to do! Why these things kept happening to me was beyond my comprehension but I couldn't exactly deny the truth. Something was definitely out of order in the universe and as far as I could tell it wasn't exactly fond of me. Naturally I'd consulted Uncle Harry about that trippy cursed bracelet a bit over two weeks ago and since then my life had been just on the cusp of one of good old Dante's rings of hell. It had to be the bracelet. Add in I really felt like I was being shoved hard to hit one of the bottom rings of hell by unseen forces, not one of the top two. Yup, I was so cosmically screwed in the drive-through lanes of life from what I saw.
I knew perfectly well that it was too soon to pop back in on Uncle Harry. I could still hear him chastising me, "Esmeralda Meredith, stop trying to control the world. Why don't you sit back for a change and watch?" Hello! Look what that got me. He didn't even call me Emma, my usual nickname, so I knew I had to be careful. I cautiously, if insincerely, agreed with him and soon departed.
And besides, even with his wickedly powerful connections, I wasn't sure that my current predicament in any way even concerned the vampires. Vampires were pretty insular and for the most part ignored anything not vampire. Yeah, vampires weren't exactly known to assist others -- especially me. Uncle Harry had been the only known exception as far as I know. That werewolf buddy of his, the one who'd brought over the squishy, gooey bacon we'd used to slither over my wrist to free it from the evil jewelry, Riley, had been all but drooling when his rabid eyes rolled over me -- okay, maybe that wasn't exactly fair or completely true but Riley knew exactly who I was and maybe even what I was. A shudder traced its way up and down my spine remembering the huge bear-like Riley. The flickering of his feral eyes still haunted me.
Having a price on my head wasn't a good thing in the current weak, extremely sluggish economy. Last time I'd checked the price on my corpse -- nobody seemed to want to face me while I was still breathing, go figure -- was roughly in the two point five range. Yep, it was two million and five hundred thousand bucks for my dead ass. I tried to sleep at night but since I'd seen that reward posted in good old-fashioned English on many of the various supernatural websites that I knew about and frequented darkly when I had a good Internet connection, I was pretty sure it was a serious offer. So I tended to find myself sleeping during the day far away from any humans or known supernaturals. All of that baggage probably explained why I liked graveyards and lost civilizations so much more than so-called 'modern' civilized society. Baboons with pointy sticks were safer company than money-hungry supers trying to track down and tag my lily-white ass. Leastways baboons would give up after I popped out of phase and went elsewhere.
I really didn't mean any harm. Just let me have my pretties and leave me alone. And in turn I'd leave you alone. Which made up my basic rules of life but they didn't seem to be working out for me in the itty-bittiest ways. Damnation and brimstone I wanted Uncle Harry's help.
Sighing I looked slowly around my current hidey-hole.
Dirt -- check
Small rodent droppings -- check
Shards of old pottery -- check
Dirt walls -- check, oh wait sorta check. After all, adobe was dirt and straw mixed with water and sun baked. Not exactly dirt walls but close enough.
So -- check.
Distractedly, I shook my head, remembering that substitute teacher who'd been on a rather long guided tour in Indonesia. The tour had been booked before I even landed in Indonesia and I hadn't had a say in the others in the group. It was hot and humid and the cargo van was pretty much filled with stupid Americans who hadn't bothered to read anything about the country they were visiting. I let my thoughts drift since it wasn't like I was falling asleep easily. I let the memories roll through my mind. It was like I was living it all over again in my thoughts.
Back then when I was visiting Indonesia there was this stupid substitute teacher who kept asking the nice local guide driving the van what were adobe bricks made of exactly. I know I kept looking at her like she'd grown a third head. And then I double-checked to make sure she wasn't a faulty magical construct filled with sawdust while the guide struggled to answer her with a polite tone. She'd claimed to be from Southern California when she first introduced herself to the rest of the group in a torrent of overwrought words and complex phrases, not that any of us seemed to care. As it was I easily detected a bit of a New York accent. That and she always talked about driving down the "interstate" never "the freeway." I tuned her out immediately and still to this day didn't remember her name.
I didn't know if she'd actually been that clueless or thought maybe on the other side of her known universe that perhaps they made bricks differently. The young man politely explained the local mechanics of making bricks, which was the precise way Americans made them. The next village gave our local guide an excuse to pull off the road and kick us out of the vehicle on some made-up pretense. I couldn't say that I blamed him since we couldn't easily escape the guided tour, but he could dump my ass along with the others anywhere he wanted under the guise of showing us something old or even 'new.' Looking at the dirt and weather-worn shack we were parked by I had to admit it wasn't so much new as old and shabby.
Ten minutes later as I watched the lady slug back an open, plastic bottle of water that she'd bought cheaply from the local craft shop where we'd been oh-so conveniently parked next to, while the guide consulted a tattered map from the safety inside the sweetly air-conditioned van. I bit back a smile at the thought that he'd even needed a map on his home island, but it seemed to be very convincing to the others in our tour group. They were like lemmings as they trailed each other around the shop and asked the price of the designed-for-tourists trinkets. The shacks were always a part of the 'guided' tours. From everything I'd seen they were cousins of the guide that spoke English and were good at keeping a straight face when asked mindlessly stupid questions again and again.
After watching her down half a bottle of the questionably 'pure' water automatically I asked a question that was foremost in my mind, "Did you just take your malaria pill?"
I'd seen that she'd had a pill that she'd popped into her mouth seconds before she drank from the slightly off-colored water. It wasn't quite brown or completely yellow but definitely could not be described as 'clear.' The previously screwed-off top should have been a clue it wasn't exactly Fiji much less the cheaper Aquafina water readily available at the local hotels and approved restaurants. The cute little urchin selling the re-purposed bottle had made a grand gesture of vigorously twisting off the top seconds before handing the woman the bottle. I easily could tell it had been refilled from the sight alone not to mention the smell. Swamp water would probably be less toxic than whatever had been funneled in the obviously recycled bottle to simulate clean water. T-shirts could only filter so much smut.
She glared at me and replied in a quarrelsome voice, "Why ever would I be taking something like malaria pills? I just took an aspirin because my head's throbbing." She sounded offended that I'd asked her anything and from the glare I didn't doubt the throbbing head. Hell, she made my head throb.
"Because I think that the mosquitoes here in Indonesia can carry two types of malaria. One is easily deflected by the anti-malaria pills, but the other not so much." I knew it for a fact but was trying to be respectful and not challenging. I was on vacation, not at school or work. Not that I'd done either in decades. Schools and I didn't see eye-to-eye, ditto that for the normal work environment.
"Young woman, what utter nonsense! Malaria has been long wiped off the face of the Earth. Like small pox, tuberculosis and the plague." For her it was a statement of fact, not a question, I quickly gathered by her arched tones and stern demeanor, ever the teacher regardless of reality. Admittedly I really hadn't liked school very much and she wasn't endearing herself to me in any manner. I mentally curbed my immediate reaction of smacking her senseless and went for calmness.
That said, I heard a few gasps from the other folks in our tour group who'd come back to be near the slight shade of the tour bus. It was more of a SUV filled with ten strangers but the guide kept calling it the 'bus' like it made it a more valuable trip. And with that, the hope of an illegal tip -- Indonesia didn't allow tipping, but more than one visitor had been known to slide a few stray dollars into the pockets of the local guides if the tourists were favorably impressed. But for me, after the first hour of hearing the woman ask stupid questions and impart personal facts about herself and her unseen but well-discussed famil,y I wanted to phase out of the damned vehicle and find myself anywhere else, but given all the camcorders in hands and on shoulders (a film crew was supposedly doing background shots for a future feature of a vague political nature) of the various people in the van, I figured I'd keep my ass glued in place and my lips closed.
After having watched her swill the questionably clean 'bottled' water with a now-identified pill, I'd been unable to resist poking her; besides I wasn't sitting inside the van but standing outside the vehicle in the oppressive heat, waiting for the guide to let us back into the air conditioned comfort due to her constant yammering. I hadn't yet even thought to ask her if she'd ever heard of dysentery or other any of the various gastrointestinal mishaps that came from tainted water and bad food. Erroneously I'd assumed at first that she'd forgotten her morning malaria tablet and in a panic slammed back the first available liquid to get the medicine in her gullet. Once I heard that she was downing tainted water to take an aspirin it was all I could do to not roll my eyes.
A rather spineless-looking dishwater blonde piped up, "But Auntie, malaria is real, I think." A confused look passed over her face as I watched it dawn on her that she hadn't been popping malaria pills either. The apple obviously didn't fall far from the tree, and the niece wasn't very bright from what I could see.
'Auntie' turned her puckered sour face towards her cowering niece and snapped out, "Sherry, stop being ridiculous. Oh how, I weep for the future. I can't believe you didn't know malaria was cured decades ago." She flapped a hand loosely at her niece in an extremely dismissive manner. From the way Sherry dropped her chin, it wasn't a new gesture to the girl.
Then with a flourish she defiantly tossed back the rest of the re-bottled water. One of the boys in the van was carrying a large professional-looking camcorder, which I automatically noticed was running discreetly; while pointed from his grip framing the substitute teacher and her niece precisely in the lens, he said in a shockingly deep voice, "Ma'am, you are wrong." I found it funny that he'd spoken since most of the time the film crew kept quiet and just ran their cameras.