The Nature of Beasts
Traffic had all but stopped—even the taxis—when they pulled into a parking space. Pedestrians crowded the sidewalk. “What’s all the ruckus?” Monty Conjure growled, switching off the Delorean’s engine.
“Is that,” Jeannie Conjure gasped, squinting through the windshield from the passenger seat, “a phoenix?” An elephant-sized beast covered in feathers and fur stomped toward them from two blocks ahead. They could feel the impact of its steps. Its tail swung side-to-side, denting cars and mangling lampposts. Screaming drivers abandoned their vehicles and ran.
“No, it’s a griffin. Note the lion-like body. A phoenix is just a bird that explodes.”
“Yes, darling. You’re right,” Jeannie conceded. She was bored with him. His tricks, on and off the stage, weren’t magical anymore. But she was confident an insurance payout would help her achieve a change of pace. As she handed him half a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, their traditional pre-performance meal, she noted a tiny dot of green ink on the plastic wrap. “You should eat, Monty.”
He took the sandwich, his stomach turning a bit at the sight of Jeannie’s ropy, liver-spotted left hand. Beneath another sparkly black dress, her once-sleek figure was flabby. Lately, she refused to perform many of their standard tricks and claimed to be too tired to learn new ones. The sword bit was getting sloppy and they planned to replace it with a levitation act, which she enjoyed because she could put her feet up. He often daydreamed of doing feats of magic with a fresh girl who wouldn’t spoil the act or mock his moustache. He also daydreamed about how easily, during an act of prestidigitation, a sword could slip. “Where do you suppose this animal came from?”
Jeannie looked distastefully at a darkening banana slice slipping from the edge of his still-uneaten sandwich and shrugged. “Maybe it’s part of our opening act.”
“We are the opening act.”
“That explains why we’re parked on the street.” She sighed. “It’s nearly time.”
“We’ll eat in the wings.” He pressed a button and the car doors rose, crane-like, attracting the attention of the griffin. Now only a block away, it tilted its massive eagle head and stalked toward them.
Jeannie stepped out of the car on shaking legs and drew a long breath. There was only one defense she could think of.
“Oy! We’ve got loads of lovely carrion over here!” called a disembodied speaker.
The griffin skidded to a stop just three car-lengths away, its claws tearing chunks from the asphalt. Shrieking, it stomped down an alleyway in the direction of the voice.
“You’ve still got it. Best ventriloquist I ever knew,” Monty proclaimed as he kissed her forehead. She snatched the sandwich and tossed it into the street.
“You can show your gratitude by buying me dinner later,” she said, smoothing her dress. “If that thing comes back, it’s going to scuff the car.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve been thinking of upgrading.”
“A new car? You’re full of surprises.”
Chuckling, he put on his top hat and took her hand as they walked into the theatre.