A few days after my visit to the Anavana Fuchsias and my chat with Venedora, when I had a free morning, I decided to go incognito to Glasterhadd, the haunted house of the Anavana District, a couple of miles distant from the Fuchsias' clubhouse. Because my horns had been the subject of news coverage in Obscont and other periodicals, I wasn't really sure that I would be able to conceal my identity, but there was a chance that the people from Glasterhadd were unaware of the relevant news or perhaps, having seen an article or two, would not associate it with a particular person. I could try anyway.
I wanted to go incognito because I guessed that, if the people from Glasterhadd knew I was a Vrikshaya or had connections with Eldor Palace, they would modify their reception and behavior accordingly. I was more interested in their usual mode of dealing with visitors.
I went down to the lilac, lavender and purple metro station in the basement of Eldor Palace and boarded one of the bullet trains of Mecnita Metro that would take me to Ishvar Circle. I was wearing my Eldor Goose uniform--red leotard and red cheerleader's skirt with self panties--and the white skates and white wings of Gvagma's Courier Service, as usual. Once I got to Ishvar Circle, I would skate a mile or so down Ishvar Boulevard to Haniyazi Street, where I'd look for number 59, following Venedora's instructions.
"Good morning," I said to a gaunt, haggard lady of about 100 who opened the door when I'd knocked, "I was advised that seances are held here."
"Who advised you of that?" she answered in a peevish, suspicious voice.
"A lady named Vona, who lives in Sulugur," I invented, in order not to involve Venedora or the Fuchsias.
"I don't recall anyone named Vona from Sulugur."
"Do you remember the names of all your guests?"
"I didn't say that either."
"Well, anyway, my name is Ipsidu, and I would like to sit in on one of your seances, if I may. This sounds like the sort of thing that might interest me."
"What are those horns of yours all about?"
"Oh, they're just a part of the costume that I wear as a courier for Gvagma."
"The Girls' Volleyball Association of Greater Mecnita," I explained.
"That figures. You can sit in on a seance all right, but it will cost you. There are no giveaways around here. We charge for everything. We've got a seance scheduled in about 15 minutes as a matter of fact, but it will cost you half a florin to attend." (N.B.: one florin = one hundred dirhams = about one hundred dollars.)
"Half a florin! This is highway robbery!"
"There's the exit, right behind you, just where you came in."
"No, no, I'll pay." I counted out the 50 dirhams, thinking of the two chemises I would have to sew and sell to earn those dirhams.
"All right, very well. Just go down the stairs. You'll see a little auditorium. Just take a seat and relax for a few minutes. Then we'll get going." She gave me a printed ticket with the legend, "Admit one."
I started downstairs. Bookshelves lined the walls around the creaky wooden spiral staircase to the basement. Many of the books were old and well worn. I saw books on witchcraft, black magic, psychic phenomena, the occult sciences, esoteric religions and other eerie topics. Here and there, in niches, there were curios and artifacts meant to create a somber, mystical mood; there was a skull, a bloody dagger, the likeness of a bleeding heart, and drawings of witches, vampires, werewolves and ogres. I could see that these things were all just so much hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo, but I realized that credulous, superstitious people might be frightened when they saw them.
The auditorium, in a lookout basement, had about 50 folding chairs as seats, and was gloomy and dusty, but the windows, which were set in shafts, admitted a ray of wan sunlight above the level of the ground, as the heavy maroon velvet drapes had been drawn open slightly. No one was in the room.
Walking around in idle curiosity, I was alarmed when a cadaverous-looking man, who could have been over 100, appeared suddenly on the threshold of a door that had just opened.
"Who might you be, pray?"
"I'm Ipsidu, here for the seance."
I showed him the ticket I had just bought.
"Very well. Just take a seat. Don't go wandering around though. There are a lot of strange things that happen here. How is it you have horns?"
"Oh, that," I said nonchalantly. "they're just part of my outfit."
"Very well. Please just sit down and stay put."
A few minutes later, the same man drew the drapes closed, and the auditorium went black as night. Some other people had come in the door at the foot of the spiral staircase and taken seats. The entire audience numbered no more than a dozen. "Still," I thought, "that's six florins, and would buy half a dozen of my more economical chemises. Maybe I'm in the wrong business."
Then somebody got up on a stage before the guests with a skull that had a lamp inside, something like a jack-o'-lantern. "Oh, this is so silly!" I said to myself, "This is like Ghost Night." On Nya, once a year, we observe a spooky evening for young children that we call Ghost Night. I couldn't help giggling audibly. Several people in the audience were offended by my frivolity, and I herd a chorus of people hissing "Shhh!" in irritation.
The speaker said that by moving the skull about and rubbing the occiput with his right hand, he could summon up the spirits of the dead. By the light that emanated from the skull, I could see that he was indeed rubbing it, as he waved it about. Presently, I heard a loud voice from above and behind the speaker. I couldn't tell by listening whether there was a person hidden somewhere behind the stage or whether there were some audio devices secreted in the shadows, but I certainly did not believe that a dead person was talking.
"I am Molo of Vatarzi," said the voice, "I died 400 years ago, persecuted by the Lebkians. I wish to warn you of the danger you are facing but know not."
I heard a round of sighs and gasps, and the scraping of chair legs on the floor.
I said to myself facetiously, ironically, almost inaudibly, "Of course you're Molo of Vatarzi. I'd recognize that ghastly bass voice of yours anywhere."
The guest sitting next to me cried, "Usher! Usher! Will you please tell this person to shut up. She's ruining the spirit of the seance with her evil vibrations."
"Dammina, excuse me, you must keep your comments to yourself, or I'll have to ask you to leave," the usher warned me.
"I apologize. I'll try to mind my manners."
Molo of Vatarzi droned on for several minutes about catastrophes he predicted would befall Mecnita and Ung. I wondered where they got this nonsense.
Then Ottorina, a duchess who had lived ages ago, starting prating about how she, like us, had been heedless of the future, warning us to mark her words.
There were several other such charades. Finally, I had heard enough, and rising from my seat, I cried out, "This is all such twaddle! There are no dead people talking. This is all a hoax."
The lights went on immediately.
"How dare you?" said the man I had spoken to before, "These people come here to communicate with their lost loved ones and their ancestors, and we help them do so."
"This is fraud," I said, "This is unadulterated rubbish."
Just then two large men in black form-fitting uniforms appeared from behind the curtains. "Grab her, and lock her up in the necropolis. A night or two out there will teach her a thing or two."
Behind the house there was a thicket of unkempt trees, and in their midst, four mausoleums. At one time, these mausoleums may have been handsome enough, with their carven granite door surrounds, but now they were in a state of sorry disrepair, stones dilapidated and brass grilles green with rust. Weeds had grown up about the base of the walls, and inside, in the cracks between the stone blocks of the floor. I shuddered when I saw them, and regretted that I had been so outspoken in the meeting. The two men led me to the most evil-looking of the four mausoleums, opened the grille that served as a door, and pushed me inside. Then they locked it again and left, without any explanation or instruction.
I knew that in the morning I would be missed in Ajinblambia's dressing room and that it would be only a matter of time till she learned of my visit to the Anavana Fuchsias. My only hope is that Venedora would recall having told me of Glasterhadd, and that Ajinblambia's agents would trace me and rescue me. I was confident.
But I would still have to spend the night, and maybe one whole day or more in the necropolis, a prospect that sickened me no end. "Why did I have to be such a smart alice?" I asked myself.
The afternoon was slow and tedious. Then night fell, and an unearthly feeling overtook me, in spite of myself.
Around midnight, a "vampire" came by my door and shrieked. I knew that this was not a real vampire, but just somebody masquerading as a vampire, with ghoulish makeup and artificial fangs. This was almost more frightening than a real vampire would have been. I could not, for the life of me, understand how a grown man or woman would stoop to this kind of hideous display. This must have been a psychopath of some kind. Later, other figures, equally repulsive, came by, to taunt me. Finally, about 2 Ungi (4:48 AM), the visitations stopped, and I managed to get a little sleep.
With daybreak, I began to wonder whether the people of Glasterhadd would now release me, but there was no sign of any such thing. All day long I stood at the verdigrised grille, looking one way and the other, to see if anyone was coming. There was nothing, nothing, nothing!
Finally, as the second evening was approaching, I heard a voice shout, "Here she is! Here she is! Let's break open this grille." It was female detectives from Eldor Palace whom I recognized at once.
Three hours later, I was in Ajinblambia's office. "Why do you do these things?" she asked, "Those people are dangerous. They could have killed you. Well, thank goodness, we still have you, but I really wish you'd be just a little more careful."
In the weeks to come, an investigation was conducted. Not only did the Glasterhaddians hold seances, it was learned, but they offered self-improvement courses and curricula based on mystical and cosmic principles that they claimed they alone understood. They offered lifetime memberships to their society, which bore the name of The Miervin Society. They published and sold books, and manufactured charms and magical supplies. In going through their records, the royal auditors found that the Glasterhaddians' annual income was several talents. (N. B.: one talent = about one million dollars.).
Naturally, if someone appeared on the scene who posed a threat to their reputation and their earnings, they would be very angry and vindictive. I hadn't really understood all these implications and consequences, but had limited myself to consideration of the childishly obvious fraudulencies of their routine and ritual.
Judicial proceedings for the abatement of a public nuisance were instigated by the municipality of Mecnita against Rohopt and Frishdara, the elderly couple whom I met upon my arrival at Glasterhadd. Glasterhadd was seized by the city, and Rohopt and Frishdara were imprisoned. Others involved in the wicked deceit were imprisoned, fined or put on probation, depending upon the severity of their misdeeds.
Ajinblambia said that for my role in uncovering the nefarious Miervin Society, she was going to give Glasterhadd to me, to sell or otherwise dispose of as I saw fit.
I had noticed that in Mecnita there was a market for so-called vintage apparel. Antiquarians collected and sold gowns, dresses, petticoats and other garments of a bygone age. Some of them may have been beautiful in their day, but since they were 50 or 100 or more years old, they were no longer very attractive. Some were stiff and soiled, or torn, with broken straps or missing buttons. I conceived the idea of making new gowns and peignoirs using the patterns of the past, so that they could be worn with comfort and confidence. I would call the business Cissi's Vintage Intimates, locating it in Glasterhadd.
At about this time, a highly embarrassing series of events took place:
Of course the grounds of Eldor Palace included several beautiful bridle paths, but riding was not one of my usual activities. One morning, however, Barti suggested that we six Eldor Geese go out to ride for an hour or two together. Barti, Vinja, Dhabbi, Mlechi and Usha were all expert horsewomen, and I was far too weak and timid to compete with them. I was really frightened to be atop my large black stallion in any case.
Later in the day, Ajinblambia called me into her office, saying she had seen me riding with the Geese that morning. She said that riding in that fashion was far too dangerous for me, and she forbade me to go near the horses for the time being. She said that within two or three days, she would devise something that would enable me to ride more safely. Till then I should just be patient and wait, avoiding the stables altogether.
Three days later, Ajinblambia invited me to accompany her to the stables. She said she had invented a "security saddle" that was perfect for me. In the stables, I saw a large black stallion "saddled" with a cylinder made of brass strips and horsehide. The cylinder was about 24 inches in diameter and 30 inches tall, like a large drum. It was furnished with a circular lid with a brim. In the rear of the lid, there was a U-shaped slot about 4 inches in diameter on the end towards the middle of the lid, with a straight cutout to the edge of the lid. In front of the cylinder, at about mid-height, there were two holes, 4 inches in diameter, side by side. Higher up, there were two more, 2-1/2 inches in diameter.
Ajinblambia removed the lid, and I could see that there were two inclined boards sloping down from the pair of 4-inch holes to the bottom of the cylinder. She picked me up as if I had been a feather, instructing me to guide my feet through the 4-inch holes in front, as she lowered me until I was seated in the bottom of the cylinder. When she had released me, the backs of my thighs were resting comfortably on the inclined boards, my knees were in the holes, and my lower legs were hanging down in front of the cylinder. Next, Ajinblambia strapped my ankles to the front of the cylinder and buckled them securely in place.
There were arm rests inside the cylinder, in line with the smaller holes. Ajinblambia pulled two little slide plates slightly to the side, so that I could insert my wrists in the smaller holes. Then she pushed the slide plates back in place, and secured them with thumbscrews. Now my forearms were on the arm rests, my wrists were in the holes and my hands were outside the cylinder, in front.
My body took up most of the space inside the cylinder, but there were some sizable voids and gaps. Ajinblambia rolled over a buggy full of panties, and started packing me in the cylinder by stuffing panties all around me, filling every opening. In a few minutes, the cylinder was completely full; in fact, it was bulging slightly. Ajinblambia pressed the lid on, till the brim was all the way down, and then she tightened a row of twenty thumbscrews to hold the lid in place.
My neck was in the slot in the rear of the lid. Hanging down from the back of the cylinder, there was a very stiff durable bra top made of elasticized denim and lined with tufted satin. Along the shoulder straps, there were elasticized tubular sleeves. Pulling the straps up, Ajinblambia slipped the tubular sleeves over my horns, so that my horns were of a piece with the shoulder straps. There was a ring around my neck and through it passed another strap like a belt.
"Well, Sissy, how does that feel? Are you comfortable?"
"Yes, I'm fine. But how will I guide the horse?"
"You won't guide the horse. Ivandra will guide the horse."
"Ivandra? Ivandra? Who in the world is Ivandra?"
Next to Ajinblambia, stood a magnificent lady, fully as tall as Ajinblambia, about 84 inches. She was a tremendous athlete, gymnast and acrobat, one of the most remarkable horsewomen in Ung, according to Ajinblambia.
"Sissy, please meet Ivandra. She'll be helping you with your riding."
In back of the cylinder was a small riding saddle, about halfway up. Ivandra stepped in a stirrup and rose gracefully onto the saddle. She fastened the belt from the bra top about her waist, with the buckle in the back, tying the shoulder straps snugly about her neck and shoulders. So my head was held firmly in Ivandra's bosom, with my horns in the elasticized tubes sewn to the straps of her brassiere.
Ajinblambia handed Ivandra the reins, telling me that from then on, I would have to ride in that fashion only.
This was terribly embarrassing. "Will the other Geese have to ride like this too?"
"No, just you."
"Why just me?"
"Well, you're the pantywaist."
Ordinarily, Ajinblambia did not resort to colloquialisms like pantywaist. But occasionally, when she was in a light mood, she would use playful diction.
"I'm the pantywaist?"
"Of course you're the pantywaist. You're the most outrageous pantywaist in Mecnita," replied Ajinblambia with a merry chuckle.
Just at that moment, the other Geese entered the stable where Ivandra and I were planning to go riding. Seeing me in the cylinder, with my head forming a part of Ivandra's bra top, and my hands and legs held in little holes, as if pilloried, they broke out in the most hilarious laughter.
"Of course she's the pantywaist. She's the most outrageous pantywaist in Mecnita," Barti chimed in echoically.
The phrase caught on like wildfire. Obscont, Ung's paramount newspaper, ran a headline two days later: THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS PANTYWAIST IN MECNITA.
There was a full-page photograph showing Ivandra and myself mounted on a large black stallion. Detailed descriptions of the construction of the security saddle were published. Time and time again, the articles mentioned that I would always have to ride with my head held firmly in place by Ivandra's bra top.
I complained to Ajinblambia that I had seen even 100-year-old ladies riding in the conventional way, mounted on saddles and handling reins. I felt that if a 100-year-old woman could ride a large horse, I should also be able to do so. Ajinblambia told me we would deal with that subject momentarily.
She said that Sundari, the directress of Gvagma's Courier Service, had seen the article in Obscont, and had found it eldritch, bizarre, outlandish and absurd, but loved it anyway. Sundari said that Ivandra was so magnificent that Ivandra and I together cut an almost surreal figure, epic, mythic, iconic, folkloric, the very stuff of legend. She wanted me to discontinue making deliveries in my red skirt and leotard and white wings and skates. Instead, she wanted Ivandra and me to function as a sort of courier duet, with Ajinblambia's approval, of course, which had already been given.
Ajinblambia also explained that Queen Udi had aggregated quite a supply of the panties I was making for her, so that I could suspend production for a time. Therefore, for the next four months, she was assigning me to spend 12 hours a day in the security saddle. For eight hours, Ivandra and I would make deliveries dispatched by Sundari. The other four hours would be "free time". In other words, Ivandra would decide where we went and what we did.
"Twelve hours a day? Do I have a choice?"
"No, you have no choice in the matter. As for the 100-year-old women you feel are so inane, I think that you will find that you are mistaken. Some of them are made of stern stuff, shrewd, canny and capable. After your four-month tour of duty in the security saddle, I will be organizing the Great-Great-Grandmothers' Games in Pantoflambo Field. I have found six very distinguished 100-year-old horsewomen and athletes. You will participate in the games, as an honorary great-great-grandmother, trying to compete with them successfully in a number of athletic events. Queen Udi, the Geese and I will be spectators and judges. Let's see how well you do. If you can show me that you are in a league with the great-great-grandmothers, I may reconsider your classification. Otherwise, you'll be assigned to the security saddle indefinitely. Is that clear?"
I broke into tears, because I already knew what the outcome of the games would be. "This isn't fair, Ajinblambia."
The very next day, I had a confrontation with a 100-year-old horsewoman. Ivandra and I were making a delivery for Gvagma's Courier Service, in the Shnuvi District of Mecnita. We were riding along Shnuvi Woods Bridle Path, when suddenly there appeared, opposite us, a very elderly lady, dressed in black robes and veils, like a widow or a nun. Ivandra said that her name was Impacta and that she had just celebrated her 100th birthday, according to an article she had noticed in Obscont. Impacta was mounted on a huge stallion, holding the reins in her small but shapely right hand, on which she wore a black kidskin glove. She seemed full of confidence and self-assurance, as if she knew perfectly well how to handle her horse. She approached us very closely. I was as envious and angry as could be, seeing that she was sitting on a big powerful horse all by herself despite her 100 years.
Incidentally, we Ungians live 150 years, so our 100-year-old ladies seem somewhat younger than their counterparts on Earth.
I called out to Impacta, "Oh, I suppose you think you're some sort of heroine or goddess because you can handle that 1500-pound stallion so skillfully! Do you think you own the planet?"
"At least I don't need a babysitter when I go riding."
That remark really incensed me, but there was nothing I could say or do that would change the fact that it was entirely appropriate. So like a child, I just stuck out my tongue and said,"You daffy old clone!"
Impacta's left hand, which also was in a black kidskin glove, was small and shapely, and I could see that it did possess a measure of strength. Impacta reached over and slapped me in the face, crying, "Pantywaist!"
"I am not a pantywaist," I retorted.
"Oh, no?" said Impacta, as she punched me smartly in the mouth with her fist, "What are you going to do about that?" The blow was so forceful that it felt as if she had struck me with a sledge hammer.
"Please, I beg of you not to hit me in the mouth again."
"Then just admit ten times that you're a pantywaist."
I broke out bawling. Then I said, "I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist."
"Five more times."
"I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist. I'm a pantywaist."
"Very well," said Impacta, as she rode off triumphantly.
Later, I visited Ruiza, a dentist who had an office in Eldor Palace, because I was experiencing severe toothaches. I told Ruiza about my confrontation with Impacta. Ruiza X-rayed my whole mouth. I was shocked to learn that Impacta had broken all my teeth and fractured my jaw. Ruiza's opinion was that she could not save any of my teeth at all. She recommended that I agree to let her extract all my teeth. I simply could not believe it! There were several consultations and diagnoses in the next few days, and I finally decided to let the dentist do as she had recommended. I underwent an exhaustive series of simple and surgical extractions soon thereafter. So I no longer had teeth. Impacta had knocked out every tooth in my head with a single blow.
I told Ajinblambia about my confrontation with Impacta, mentioning that my babysitter could confirm the whole story. This was the first time I had referred to Ivandra as my babysitter, but it seemed like an apt word, even though it was coined by Impacta.
"Why didn't your babysitter intercede on your behalf when Impacta struck you?"
"I think that my confrontation with Impacta was so sudden that my babysitter was taken by surprise. Furthermore, she probably didn't appreciate how forcefully Impacta had hit me in the mouth."
"Well, I'll discuss it thoroughly with your babysitter this afternoon."
Ajinblambia summoned Impacta to her office in Eldor Palace and interviewed her in the presence of the Geese. My babysitter and I attended the meeting too. I really hated to admit that I had provoked the attack, but I did not feel it right to hold Impacta responsible. Impacta's version was that I had called her a daffy old crone apparently for no other reason than that I was envious of her ability to ride so handsomely. She said that she had deliberately struck me hard enough to knock out my teeth, because she felt that this was what I deserved for my disrespectful attitude. She expected the likes of me to address her as "Lady Impacta". Everyone present, myself included, was impressed with Lady Impacta's dignity and old-fashioned forthrightness. She said that she felt that she had taught me a lesson I would never forget. No charges were filed against Lady Impacta.
Ajinblambia asked if I would agree to address Impacta as "Lady Impacta" in the future, and I promised to do so. Lady Impacta told Ajinblambia that she preferred not to have to address me by my name, Sissy, and asked Ajinblambia to allow her to address me as "Pantywaist" instead. I nodded to signify that I would acquiesce in this, so Ajinblambia said, "Very well. You will call her 'Lady Impacta' and she will call you 'Pantywaist'."
The subject of Lady Impacta's having referred to Ivandra as "my babysitter" also came up. Ajinblambia merely observed that Ivandra was my de facto babysitter, so there was no point in preventing her from being known as my de jure babysitter as well. Ajinblambia made the new title official, and any lady in Ung now enjoyed the liberty of calling Ivandra my babysitter, if she so wished.
Lady Impacta requested that Ajinblambia require that I accept her invitation to visit her in her office in Shnuvi Tower in the Shnuvi District on the following day. I was terrified but the Vrikshaya accepted and was adamant.
I went to the dentist again that afternoon. Ruiza said that the anatomical and physiological characteristics of my gums made it impossible for her or any other dentist to fashion a set of dentures for me. I would have to accept the fact of being afflicted with chronic adontia.
After that, Zevanardia loved to kiss me, inserting her tongue in my mouth. She said it really felt soft and sweet. One afternoon at Cissi's Intimates, she said to me, "I have a very long tongue."
"It's much longer than you think."
"Much longer than I think? What do you mean?"
"Just what I said."
"How long is it?"
"It's six inches long."
"Come on, Zevanardia, your tongue is not six inches long."
"Yes, it is."
"I don't believe you. Let's see."
Zevanardia stuck out her tongue. It was indeed six inches long. I measured it with a tape measure from the sewing room.
I felt the ball of Zevanardia's middle finger gently stroke the crotch of my beige spandex panties opposite my vulvae. All the while, she lolled her tongue before my eyes.
I understood that she was making a request.
I granted her request, slipping off my panties.
As long as Zevanardia preferred me without teeth, I could accept the new situation.
There was an article in Obscont about how Lady Impacta had knocked out my teeth. I was terribly embarrassed that everyone knew that a 100-year-old lady had knocked out my teeth and broken my jaw to avenge an unwarranted insult that I had shouted at her. This was Mecnita, where many straage things happen.
The main problem that my chronic adontia presented was that my upper gums would rest on my lower gums directly, whereas, in the past, my teeth had held them an inch or so apart. This circumoral collapse changed the shape of my face in an unbecoming way. I solved the problem by rolling up a pair of white panties into a little cylindrical packet, about three inches long, and an inch and a quarter in diameter. To keep the packet from unrolling, I stitched a little seam lengthwise. Then I inserted the packet into my mouth, thus separating my upper and lower gums about the same distance as my teeth had done in the past.
Of course, I didn't make just a single roll. I made several at a time, so that I would always have clean, fresh replacements. My smile was not unattractive, though you could see that the packet was not a set of teeth. I began to eat and drink in private, which posed no problem, though there were only certain kinds of food I could eat. I would simply have to do without steaks, apples, walnuts, popcorn and such solid treats. Conversation was difficult, for if I removed the panty roll, I had less control over the shape of my face. When I entered in a lengthy conversation I would usually wear a small veil.
I was resigned to my odontia as a permanent condition, not foreseeing that in the very near future, the outlook would change.