examine his injuries. Clear fluid that smelled faintly like diesel oozed from cuts on his forelegs. Blue flame danced over the cuts, never actually touching the fluid. Like gasoline, it was probably only flammable when it evaporated. Leaving the book on the counter, I returned to my library.
My classification was loosely based on the system we used at the Copper River Library, but in addition to sorting books by genre and author, mine were also classified by magic. Healing texts were on the end of the middle shelf, where they would be easy to get to in case of emergency. I picked out a copy of
by the Brothers Grimm and flipped pages one-handed until I came to “The Water of Life.”
My hand throbbed, the pain growing worse with every beat. My palm was red and blistered, with blood oozing from the edges, but it was the blackened skin in the middle that most worried me. The pain wasn’t bad there, which suggested nerve damage.
Shock threatened to make me drop the book. I sat on the floor, resting it in my lap. “It springs from a fountain in the courtyard of an enchanted castle,” I read softly, imagining the scene in my mind. The prince hurrying to get to the spring before the clock chimed twelve, grasping the cup in one hand, reaching…
Through the yellowed pages, I touched the hammered metal cup in the prince’s hand. I eased the cup from his grip and carefully pulled it free. I spilled half the water onto my shirt. Lena caught my hand, guiding the cup to my lips.
A single swallow of the cool water was enough. The blisters dried, and the charred skin sloughed away from my palm. I used my fingernails to scrape away the worst of the dead skin and dried blood.
My arm was trembling, and sweat streamed down my face and neck. I pulled myself up and brought the cup to the kitchen. I spilled several drops into the sink where Smudge was resting. He didn’t move.
“Come on, buddy.” I reached down, but yanked my hand back when his flames flared higher. I grabbed the spatula and tried to nudge him toward the water. He just twitched and curled into a tighter ball.
Lena slipped a hand into my pants pocket and pulled out my box of Red Hots. She took one of the candies between her thumb and forefinger, dipped it into the cup, and placed it in the sink in front of Smudge. A single droplet clung to the candy’s surface.
Smudge slowly uncurled his legs and crept forward. His two front legs hung like snapped twigs ready to break away. The cuts had stopped burning, leaving only a tarry, blackish scab on each leg. His mandibles closed around the end of the candy.
“Thank you,” I said, surprised at how difficult it was to get the words out past the knot in my throat.
She kissed my cheek. “You’re welcome.”
I didn’t look away until Smudge began to move his forelegs again. A ripple of red fire spread over his body, vanishing as quickly as it had begun, except for the scabs on his legs. Those continued to burn, smelling like burnt hair and oil, until both legs were clean and whole once more.
I left Smudge in the sink with another piece of candy and picked up
Why Sh*t Happens
. “I’d call that a successful proof of concept. Let’s go clean up your tree.”
I circled the oak to make sure stray microwaves wouldn’t accidentally fry anything behind the tree. “Where are they?”
Lena pointed with one of her bokken. “The lowest is dug in at knee level.” She tapped the bark with her weapon, marking each of the twenty-eight insects. The highest was a good twelve feet up.
“This will probably hurt,” I warned her.
Nidhi clasped Lena’s hand and said, “Think of it as radiation treatment to burn away a tumor.”
“The dragonfly in the house cooked fast.” I reread the pages I had used before. “I’ll need you to lure them to the surface.”
Lena nodded and dragged her fingers through the bark. It wasn’t long before she jerked her hand away.
I aimed the book at the tiny pincers, which