Somebody else's tuffet
I opened the truck door and poured myself out onto shaking legs. Egg turned the engine off and a stillness filled the air. I felt as if something was watching and waiting, rather than admonish myself for being stupid, I decided it was owls, owls were staring at me.
Egg climbed careful from his seat and leaned against the vehicle. He did not look well, as if the crazy drive had scared him more than it had me.
“Cass, I'm sorry...” he started.
“Shhh,” I admonished. “You'll disturb the owls.”
“It isn't owls,” he said as if he knew what I was talking about.
I took his clammy hand and we stood side-by-side while we watched the light change as the moon rose. Shadows moved and twisted, trees appeared to move as different details were reveals and it must have been an optical illusion but I felt like the whole glade rotated around us. I have no idea how long we just stood there watching as the clearing changed from a dim and vaguely threatening forest to a magical grove full of shafts of moonlight and sentinel flora, a scent of greenery and flowers on the air.
It struck me that I could stand a short period of mad driving if it took me places like this,I could maybe even think about forgiving Egg.
“You're a long way from home.” The voice was deep, yet feminine, the English only carrying the faintest of local accents. “Turn around and go back there.”
My hand tightened around Egg's. A glance told me it would take a small miracle to shift our vehicle from where it was hemmed in by tree trunks, so there was no obeying the voice.
“We just need to ask a question,” Egg said.
“There are no answers here,” replied the voice. I strained my eyes to see who was speaking but they were too well hidden in shadow. “Go away, or face me.”
The figure that stepped into the clearing was statuesque, in that she looked as if someone had carved an eight foot statue of a naked woman from jet without the legs and then mounted her onto something my mind did not want to process. Her hair was cut just long enough for the start of a curl, her face was set into an unbecoming snarl but it did not hide her strong, bold features. Her figure was that of a mother, full and powerful. My eyes skated across that which my brain did not want to see, her waist ended in the body of a spider, no abdomen, just the sternum and those long, hairy, horrid legs.
I shrunk back against the truck, but Egg performed some kind of escapologist's trick and slipped free of my grip, he stepped forwards and squared up to the monster in an unequal stand off.
“Egg, you used to be such a timid little boy,” the creature said.
“Machwa, why do you always make things so difficult?” Egg asked.
“Think of it as a lesson on how life is,” she replied, advancing on Egg.
Egg stood his ground until his horrible half-sister lunged forwards with her fore legs, he flung himself backwards and avoided the strike. In response she scuttled with alarming speed, forcing him to dive out of the way. He rolled back to his feet, grabbed a shaft of moonlight, broke off a piece and swung it against her hindmost leg. She recoiled in pain and moved away from Egg in order to turn and face him.
Egg used his shard of moonbeam to parry her next few strikes, but he was breathing heavily. Sensing a weakness she pushed forwards, he backed off, but lost his balance on uneven ground. Seeing Egg lying on the ground making no attempt to get back up with that monstrosity towering over him, my common sense fled and I dashed to his defence.
Before I knew it I had a moonbeam of my own in my hands and was waving it at a giant spider-lady. It was not what I had in mind when Egg first suggested I came away with him, but sometimes you just get caught up in the moment. In a movie someone in this position will utter something to show how much of a badass they are; I think I just gave a nervous laugh and swore.
Once someone had told me that sometimes the best way to deal with a potential attacker was to just go completely mad and make them think twice about your availability as an easy target. When she lifted a leg to prod at me I took this advice to heart and swung my moonbeam at it. The blow vibrated up my arms, and I swung again before I could take stock of my situation and chicken out.
Before I knew it I was raining blow after blow on the monster. My eyes closed, I was pouring every minor inconvenience, disappointment, confusion and the fact I had not had a shower for days into every strike. It did not register at first when my wild swinging was just whistling through the air.
“Stop! You've made your point!” Her voice had lost some of its booming quality, but was still deep and commanding.
I opened my eyes and found I was standing over a lightly bruised woman somewhere in her forties. Without the spider legs and towering stature she was much less threatening. Her skin was no longer jet black but a rich brown. She was still naked. I muttered an embarrassed apology.
“You're dangerous with that thing, but I suppose I deserved that.” I dropped my weapon and it dissolved or became a normal shaft of moonlight, it was hard to tell which.
With my aid she regained her feet. We looked over at Egg, but he had not stirred, something turned over in my stomach. Machwa knelt down beside him and put a hand on his brow.
“Miranda!” She called. “Fetch my medical bag and my clothes.”
“What's wrong?” I asked, again out of my depth.
“Fever,” she turned his head to the side and revealed an insect bite. “As I suspected.”
“Malaria?” I asked, recalling the medicine we had been taking.
“Unlikely,” she replied. “I'll need to examine him closer, but my guess is someone is trying to slow him down. Trust me, I'm a doctor. A medical doctor, not some cartoon witch doctor.”
Miranda turned out to be a slim, serious girl a couple of years younger and a couple of inches taller than myself. When I saw her hand the requested items to Machwa it was obvious I was looking at mother and daughter by the likeness in their faces. Miranda placed a shawl around her mother's shoulders after she had donned a simple flower-patterned dress.
The medical examination was swift and mostly mundane, except when she trapped his exhaled breathe in a bag and then squeezed it out over a lit candle; the flame turned green briefly. Machwa nodded to herself and then without strain lifted Egg over her shoulder and carried him the short distance to where a small cabin sat, previously unseen to me on the other side of the clearing.
Miranda helped me move some of our stuff out of the truck and helped me settle in the cabin which had been used by Egg's family for years while Machwa administered to Egg. She explained that she was staying with her mother over the summer learning some tricks of the doctor's trade before joining her father in Capetown to begin formal training at the medical college. I told her the nature of our visit and she told me that she had not heard from her grandmother since her last birthday, four months ago.
“He's sleeping now, it's nothing to worry about, but he'll have to rest for a few days,” Machwa told me as Miranda busied herself making us some coffee.
“Why did you attack us like ... that?” I nearly said used the words 'like a giant evil spider-lady'.
“Poor little Egg, he's still my much resented baby brother, someone needs to teach him what a nasty bunch his family can be,” she replied. “I've always tried to teach him to be tough. This is probably the first time he's been out of the nest without someone holding his hand and look what's happened.”
“Have you heard from your mother?” I asked.
“Not for months,” she said.
“We thought she came out here after she visited her friend Giorgio,” I said.
“Sorry, you've had a wasted journey, she hasn't been here,” she said, shaking her head.
“Egg will be crushed. It's Egg's dad, he's in a bad way, it's his heart,” I told her. “Apparently she might be able to do something about it.”
“I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do that any other doctor would not already have done. I'm sure he's in the best care,” she said. “But, mother? I'm sure she'd have some sort of trick up her sleeve.”
“Do you have any idea where she might have gone instead?” I asked her.
“I really can't help you there,” she replied, sighing. “We don't get on. She always wanted me to join the family business and I always wanted anything but that. We're both very stubborn.”
“Oh, I'm sorry we intruded on you, then.” I said.
“Don't worry about it, it'll give Miranda a chance to practise her English.” She said accepting a mug of coffee off Miranda.
“I don't suppose you have a shower?” I asked.
“Not really,” she replied. “But we do have a waterfall.”