Biggles ate his way through candy as we drove up the mountain along 90: Hershey’s Kisses and Malomars, dusty Necco wafers and a rainbow of Skittles, followed by a disturbing mass of gummy worms.
“We’re going to need to stop soon,” he said as the last vanished. “Look, the Indian John reststop is coming up.” He giggled. His humor level was consistent, if nothing else.
“You need to pee?” What was traveling with a three foot tall talking rabbit going to be like? Some people accepted the supernatural, others found it more objectionable. But surely if things got ugly, that cuteness would get us out of the situation.
“I need more sugar.”
“Listen up, toots. Easter creatures live by certain laws and most of them revolve around sugar or eggs.”
“I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“Like you’re some kind of expert on festive biology?”
“Festive biology? How can which holiday you’re associated with affect your biology?”
“Easter runs on sugar, babe. So do Easter rabbits.”
“I didn’t see the Easter Bunny eating any.”
“We don’t talk about that,” Biggles said.
“To tell you why we won’t talk about it would involve talking about it, wouldn’t it?” His ears flicked in irritation. “Let’s just say it involves a…sensitivity.”
“This is ridiculous,” I said.
He didn’t reply.
We drove along in silence for several minutes before I said, “What about Santa, does he have festive biology too?”
“Oh, the ladies always get around to that,” he leered. “You’ve heard it too?”
“That the old white beard’s hung like a stallion.”
“Don’t be gross.”
“The birds and the bees are never gross, boss. Sex is a beautiful, natural thing.”
“The thought of Santa Claus having sex is not, however.”
He subsided back into silence.
I stopped in an outlet mall, first at a luggage store, then at stores filling the case I’d just bought with underwear, jeans, shirts, pajamas. A Seahawks cap and a new pair of Nikes. Toiletries from the Body Shop along with a bag of the more pragmatic items from CVS, where I also picked up the list Biggles had dictated to me, which seemed to focus on the major food groups: chocolate, licorice, marshmallow, and red.
He’d opted to stay with the car after looking to see how many children there were at the mall.
“You can’t trust the little bastards not to pick you up and squeeze you,” he said. His nose worked with fevered intensity. “They’re as violent as corn weasels, some of them.”
I didn’t ask for the background on that particular rant; instead I just went.
I had to admit, it was pretty nice, using that corporate credit card. I didn’t have to check labels or which rack I grabbed something off of.
If they wanted to convince me that the offer was appealing, that was already accomplished. But I still didn’t know what lay behind it.
When I came back to the car, children were clustered around it, so close some had their faces pressed to the glass. Biggles sat on the front seat, frozen, eyes fixed forward on the shadow of the leafless branch lying across the dashboard.
As I approached, a girl turned to me. “Is it real or a toy? Yoshi said he can see it breathing.”
I glanced into the car as I unlocked it. From his still posture, it was clear Biggles was trying to impersonate an inanimate object. I could almost see his ears quivering with the intensity of the effort.
“Toy,” I said briefly, opening the door and sliding in beside him.
From her vantage point at the car’s side, the girl peered in, staring across me. I started the engine and the kids scattered.
We exited under a banana-yellow sign exhorting us to come back real soon. As we pulled out onto the road, Biggles relaxed, slumped down in his seat. He remained silent.
The weather was warmer here. I’d stopped regretting my jacket at Harriet’s. It would give me an excuse to call her. As long as she didn’t think I’d left it there in order to do just that. Maybe I had. Maybe my unconscious mind had been trying to help me mend fences.
What would Harriet think of an expedition to hunt down a mad pig? It didn’t exactly fit into her concept of Magic, all unicorns and fairy princes and sexy vampires.
Maybe it was better not to think about Harriet and just let my unconscious mind move that side of things along.
“So clue me in,” I said as we drove along. “What does the Holiday Consortium do?”
“Do?” Biggles said. He shoved a pawful of gummy worms in his mouth, which was as disturbing an image as one might think. His words emerged around them. “Handles their interests.”
“The big three.”
“Tooth, Bunny, and Santa.”
He nodded. “It’s been around longer than you’d think,” he said. “It got set up before the Revelation.”
“The Revelation?” I was pretty sure I knew what he meant. But I’d never heard it called that before.
His ears flicked in irritation. Outside, windmills flickered on slopes furred with brown and yellow grass as the landscape rolled past. “When the Hidden World decided to reveal itself to yours. The Consortium was part of that decision, you know.”
Everyone speculates about that, but most supernatural creatures will tell you they don’t know what prompted the action, even though it was agreed upon by most of their major power groups: the Vampire Council, the main wizardly groups, all but a few of the gods, both Sidhe courts…none of them were saying what prompted the events of 2005. So I glanced over at Biggles, but he didn’t seem to be saying anything more, just watching the sky outside the window while he ate his way through a bag of Twizzlers.
“Be honest with me. Why do you need candy and the Easter Bunny doesn’t?” I asked.
He pulled another Twizzler from the bag with a crinkle and strawberry-scented flourish. “Fine. Because the old man is trying to resist the whole chocolate bunny schtick.”
“Did he tell you he thinks there’s a traitor?”
“At the highest levels, he said.”
“Sssh,” Biggles said, eyes riveted on me. “For the love of Jiminy Cricket, don’t say that sort of thing too loud.” He made a show of twisting around in his seat belt in order to examine the back seat. I think he was less concerned with possible eavesdroppers than demonstrating to me how seriously this should all be taken.
“It starts with what you asked about — the sugar,” he said, turning back to me. “A lot — and I mean a lot — of supernaturals are belief-based, which means they’re dependent on humans. No other race gives off the same juice as a human believer, and before you ask about that, no one knows why.”
“So if humans didn’t believe in them, they wouldn’t exist?”
“Right. That’s why those three as as powerful as they are, because multitudes believe in them. It’s why they push back whenever there’s incidents like the Sidhe invading or a dragon nesting.”
“Okay.” It explained a great deal, actually.
“They’re most powerful when it’s their holiday. Santa and the Bunny, at least. The Fairy’s not bound the way they are. But they’re all fueled mostly on kid imagination, which puts them on the top, power-wise. Not a lot of other creatures would want to go toe to toe with one.”
“How’s that connected to sugar?”
He held up a paw. “I’m getting to that. Some things don’t get born from stories and legends. The kind of creatures they’ve set you on.”
“Things created from advertisements.”
“You’re smarter than you look, Boss. Those things are different, somehow, most of the time. Often they’re unthinking and destructive. Sometimes they’re mean. The best way I can explain it is that the association with money twists them. They seek power and once they have it, they abuse it to get more.”
“What kind of Marxist crap is that? You’re saying money is somehow so inherently evil that association with it turns supernaturals evil?”
“Are there any you can think of associated with money that aren’t? Trolls, dragons…Rumplestiltskin.”
“I can think of one obvious one. The Tooth Fairy.”
He shook his head. “Kid imagination, which focuses on the fairy part, not the money part. And she’s not selling anything, she’s buying it. Mostly. Anyhow, ever heard the expression ‘the exception that proves the rule?’”
“Still waiting on the sugar connection.”
“Easter’s become a celebration of greed for candy. Chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps, pushed hard in supermarkets, TV specials designed to peddle a particular flavor. Sugar’s the way the forces of commerce creep into Easter. So the Bunny shuns it, lives on caffeine, cigarettes, and a lot of alfalfa.”
None of this really gibed with what I’d been taught in school, but the academics were still figuring out the Supernatural World. Perhaps I could become some sort of expert. I hadn’t signed an NDA, after all, and so I could write the kind of book Coraline had mentioned. Maybe have it ghostwritten in order to avoid the hard part. I’d always hated writing papers.
“So the Easter Bunny is avoiding candy and he thinks someone in the Consortium is a traitor. Why?”
“We harvest those little gods and beings, siphon off their energy. It powers a lot of the Holiday Consortium’s daily doings. The spell that kills off the little ones takes some power to tun so it’s not really self-sustaining. It need outside juice to keep going. And some of that energy’s been disappearing.”
“Why’s he say top levels, then?”
“When I say some, I mean a lot.”
“I’d think Santa would be just as prone to money corruption as the Easter Bunny. If not more so,” I said.
“Christmas is sort of self-cleansing. Think of what we associate with it: Giving. Selflessness. Charity.”
That made sense too.
As much as any of this did.
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