Excerpt Pooka in My Pantry
You help one monster in need, and everybody hears about it.
The recent appearance of various monsters and mythical creatures in my life took some adjustment. But no amount of flexibility prepared me to assist in the live birth of a sea serpent in my own backyard. That’s a lot to ask of anybody.
My swimming pool looked like a major crime scene, and I was pretty sure bits of mucus mixed with dried blood flecked my hair. I’d probably have to take out a personal loan to cover the water bill once I took a three-hour shower, then drained and refilled the pool.
When the sea serpent appeared in my pool a month before, I had no clue what to do about it. Fortunately, Maurice, my resident closet monster, was quick on his feet. While I stood slack-jawed at the kitchen window, he ran to get Molly to be our translator. Fluent in all sorts of crazy creature languages ranging from house pets to gargoyles, Molly, the brownie, lived in a mushroom house in my backyard with her kids.
As it happened, she was unable to decipher a word of sea-serpentese.
Fortunately, a pygmy dragon with a nasty cold had recently spent his convalescence in my garage. Molly spoke dragonish, and Bruce, the dragon, spoke serpentese. Problem solved.
Except it took over three weeks to find Bruce, leaving us with no idea why a listless, snorting sea serpent had moved into my swimming pool. Communicating in pantomime with a creature that had no hands was futile, absurd and probably hilarious to watch.
When Bruce (via Molly) explained the situation, I did my best not to panic. The sea serpent was pregnant, but she could tell something was wrong. Naturally, she came ashore to my house for help, since everyone in the supernatural community seemed to think I had the answer to every problem.
I had no experience delivering healthy babies of any species. All I had to go on were basic anatomy and zoology classes in college, and a wealth of medical procedural shows on television. And yet, something inside me clicked when Frannie went into labor and the baby stopped moving. I jumped into the water without a thought for my spangled, dry-clean-only shirt, or for the discomfort of wet jeans and high tops. In hindsight, I should’ve at least kicked off my shoes.
I’m not sure how to describe the supreme ick factor of having both arms shoved up to the elbow inside a sea serpent’s body. The baby was turned wrong, kind of folded in half and pointed to emerge center-first, rather than in a straight line with its head or tail facing the exit.
“Don’t push, Frannie,” I said. “I have to unfold the baby or it’ll stay stuck.”
Molly made a series of grunting snorts, which Bruce translated into a series of clicks and yowls. I felt the serpent relax around my squashed arms and wrestled the slippery baby into a better position. Another contraction hit and I stopped, waiting until I had more room to work.
The mournful cry from Frannie needed no translation.
When the contraction was over, I made another grab with one hand to hold the baby steady and pulled the head with the other. I’m not a dainty woman, but I’m not big enough to palm a basketball, either. That’s what it felt like I was trying to do in there, only the basketball in question had eyes I needed to avoid poking, and it was covered in what felt like tapioca pudding.
I got a good grip on a dorsal fin at what I hoped was the back of its neck as the next contraction hit.
Clacks and snarls followed down the translation line, and Frannie pushed while I pulled. My other hand shoved, guiding the rest of the baby straight. Once the head slipped into place, nature took over, and out everything slid. Right into my pool and all over me.
As an empath, I try never to leave the house without my protective walls up. The emotions of other people tend to overwhelm and drain me. But I was at home, and I was exhausted. I’d been so focused on the birth that I hadn’t built any barriers, so there was nothing between me and the small group around me to barricade my psyche against what wasn’t mine. I stood in the frigid water, unconcerned by my shaking body or the gore that covered me.
The emotional inrush saturated me in love and happiness.
Frannie nuzzled her new offspring, and a quiet joy settled over me, warming my freezing flesh. From Molly’s direction, relief lay across my shoulders like a heated blanket, and Bruce’s delight prickled my skin in electric jolts. My eyelids burned. I closed them to relieve the sensation. My back bumped against the side of the pool, and I let my knees bend so I could float.
They shot through the other emotions like tiny arrows. My eyelids cracked open, but only for a few seconds. Nothing was wrong. All was right. My job was done, so what would it hurt to take a little rest?
Thin fingers dug into the flesh in my arms, hauling me from the pool. I made a weak attempt to slap at the intruder.
“Zoey, come on, wake up.” Maurice was there, dragging me away from the water and piling towels on my wet skin.
My eyes snapped open. Well, crap. I lay flat on the pavement, still shivering, despite the previous illusion of warmth. Bodily fluids coated my skin, and Maurice had covered me with my good towels.
The closet monster’s big yellow eyes hovered inches from my face. His worry was so intense, it blocked all the warm fuzzy stuff happening behind him. He coaxed me to my feet, fussing at the towels to keep them from sliding off, and leading me into the house.
“Seriously, Zoey. I don’t know how you stayed alive before I got here. If you didn’t drown, hypothermia would’ve had you.”