Hide Behind

Jason Kimble


“It’s never gonna fruit ‘cause you stole it.”

Yuna flinched at the whip-crack of a voice. She heard Ruthie’s frustrated sigh next to her. They both knew before turning around from the fruit-bare Seeder tree that Sheriff Lightle was paying a visit.

“Seeder trees outside a grove are for everyone, Sheriff,” Ruthie drawled, falling back into the old argument. “This one was plenty far away from the brush fence, and you know well as I, the whole point of Seeder trees is to help settlers survive frontier living. The tinpots want their trees spreading cross-country.”

“Natural-like, sure,” the wiry man shot back, hooking his thumbs in his gunbelt and cocking one sharp hip to the side. He jabbed his nose at the tall tree behind the pair of women. “But you scoop it out of the ground and start grafting it willy-nilly, that ain’t doing right by the Seeders.”

“Now, Chick—” Yuna started.

“Charlie,” Sheriff Lightle all but barked.

“Charlie,” Yuna corrected with a thin-lipped smile. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the tiny bit of a nod Ruthie gave her. Quickest way to escape one sore point was to poke at another. “I know you didn’t stop by just to roast the same old chestnut, did you?”

“Shouldn’t I make the tree puns?” Ruthie whispered. Yuna nudged her research partner with an elbow. Ruthie made a show of smoothing out her prairie skirt.

Chick frowned. For a minute Yuna thought he’d push right on. He’d been sore with her since fainting in a briar patch the first time he’d seen a dead body. Seven years later he still hadn’t forgiven Yuna for smirking at the scratches on his back and belly as she treated him. It probably hadn’t helped when she told him the belly ache afterward was all in his head.

Yuna thought he was about to keep going right into the threats to tear the tree out and burn it to stop it going bad. Of course, that would have meant he had to touch it, which was more than a little unlikely given his superstitions.

Then something twitched behind his eyes, and his shoulders sagged.

“Widow Stormalong was killed last night,” he said, all the fire out of his voice.

Yuna nearly jumped when she felt Ruthie’s hand squeeze at her elbow. Neither one of them said a thing.

Chick continued. “Thing is, the way she was opened up—” his gangly-fingered hand circled low in front of his stomach—“looked just like what happened to Henry Johannes.” They all thought Johannes had been coyotes, but—

“A coyote couldn’t bite its way through giant flesh,” Yuna said. Her neck ached as she tried to keep her voice steady.

“No kind of coyote would get near enough to try,” Ruthie added.

“Which is why I’m here,” the sheriff said. He looked skyward, running one hand over his head and sending some of his fine hairs standing up from the static. “I was wondering … well, Marcus, he knows how to put a body together, but …”

Ruthie squeezed again at Yuna’s elbow. Yuna gave her a weak smile to cut through the worry in her eyes. Marcus was an undertaker, not a doctor. There was only one of those in town.

“I’ll take a look,” Yuna agreed, her voice nine times steadier than she actually felt.

“I’m helping,” Ruthie piped in. Then Yuna only felt seven times unsteadier.

* * *

Henry Johannes had been the first victim they found, three days back. When she heard about it, though, Yuna felt worst for his poor wife, Wacéda.

“She comes in after a hard week on the cattle trail, just wanting to sit down to those griddle cakes Henry made so well, and she finds him…” Yuna shuddered and didn’t finish. She willed her fingers still while she re-corked the medicinals she and Ruthie had brought in from the garden.

“I just saw him yesterday,” Ruthie said. “Gave him some of the new rhubarb for a pie he was fixing to make.” She shook her head and added, “Gentle soul, that one.”

Yuna raised her eyebrow and looked sidelong at Ruthie. “You sure you’re talking about Henry Johannes?”

Ruthie punched Yuna in the shoulder. “Hayashi Yuna, don’t you even think about talking ill of the dead,” she chided.

“My pa used to tell me something from the old country: death don’t change who you were. It just keeps folks from talking about it.

Ruthie set her hands on her hips, cocked her head, and raised one black eyebrow. “That’s no old saying from nowhere,” she said.

“But it’s true,” Yuna returned with a sideways smile. Ruthie’s dark face split with a bright grin.

“Point taken,” she said, though the smile fell as quickly as it had come. “Henry was a bit of a grump, but not so you minded, really. He certainly didn’t deserve what those coyotes did to him.”

“Still don’t understand why they’d come in so close as that, anyhow,” Yuna said.

* * *

There was a time when Yuna would have been over the moon at the chance to autopsy a giant. That thrill of discovery was what brought Ruthie and Yuna together in the first place, and what had inspired them to try raising a Seeder tree to find out just what made it tick. Ruthie was a brilliant botanist. Yuna had a gift for medicine. The two of them could take that seedling and ferret out its secrets. Maybe folks like Sheriff Lightle got prickly about it, but even Chick knew there wasn’t really anything wrong if it meant discovering something thrilling and new.

But this wasn’t university, and Widow Stormalong—Natalie—wasn’t a tree. Wasn’t just a body, even. She’d come by last week asking after herbs to help her sleep at night. Ruthie had to harvest a whole new batch of plants to get enough to do for Nat, given how much better giant bodies were at flushing toxins.

Now Nat was gone, and that made two victims. Nat proved it couldn’t just be coyotes or riled-up whimpuses whirling about. There was no joy in discovery now, but there also wasn’t any more avoiding it. Not if they wanted to stop more people dying.

When Yuna got inside, saw how low in the stomach the opening was—saw what was missing—she knew it could only be one thing.

“Hidebehind?” Chick asked, incredulous when Yuna suggested it.

“There were punctures on Nat’s forearm, but nothing eaten up around there. Suggests toxin of one stripe or other. I thought for a minute it might be some kind of snake, but …” Yuna shook her head. “You know of anything else that eats only intestines on a kill?” Yuna asked.

The color had bled from Chick’s face. Even Ruthie’s dark skin flushed a bit gray as it sunk in.

“They’re only supposed to eat but once every half-dozen years or so, ain’t they?” Chick asked with a nervous laugh. “Now this one’s gone and eaten not only twice, but took a giant-sized helping, besides?”

Yuna felt her own gaze turn cold with Chick’s pun. Ruthie filled the silence.

“What little we know about them’s twisted up in campfire stories, anyway, so who knows how big their bellies are?” Ruthie countered. “You said you found Nat under that Black Walnut tree she kept. Wacéda found Henry under their Pecan. That’s how they stalk, isn’t it? From behind trees. I mean, they’re called a hidebehind for a reason.”

* * *

“That tree she found him under?” Ruthie had said, the day they first heard about Henry, “Wacéda bought that tree from me when they got hitched.” Her voice was hollow. She glanced toward the garden and grove out back of Yuna’s house. Which was also their office.

“They got hitched!” came a voice from out back. It sounded more than a bit like Ruthie’s.

“Oh, don’t tell me that jackalope is back in the garden!” Yuna said. She grabbed up a broom and headed outside.

“Could be worse,” Ruthie called over the stomping of Yuna’s boots. “Remember when that batch of splints came through? Smashed up half the grove.”

“Hard to forget,” Yuna groaned. “Powerful tough to break those noggins,” she recalled.

“Break those noggins!” came the sound of Yuna’s own voice.

“I think it’s over here,” Ruthie called.

“I think it’s over here,” Ruthie called again from a slightly different direction, though she hadn’t actually moved.

“I think it’s over here,” now, a third time and direction.

Yuna sighed.

“You need whiskey,” called out a new voice. Yuna turned to see Wacéda looking on from the edge of the grove.

* * *

“I need a drink,” Chick muttered, dragging Yuna back to the present. He looked back and forth from Yuna to Ruthie. He opened his mouth to say something more, but only shook his head.

“I … thank you kindly, ladies,” he finally said. “Let me take you both home. Nobody ought to be going anywhere alone right about now.”

Yuna looked to Ruthie and raised an eyebrow. Ruthie gave back a shallow shrug. Chick hadn’t been chivalrous in a long while. At least, not when he wasn’t by begging after slippery elm and peppermint oil for his heartburn. But with some critter around so fast that no one ever saw it until it jumped out and cut you open for supper, maybe now was a good time to bury a hatchet.

Yuna’s place was closest. Ruthie waited in the wagon while Chick walked her to the door. He grabbed Yuna’s elbow just before she opened it.

“Doc Hayashi, those trees Mrs. Eagleton mentioned,” Chick said.

“What about ‘em?”

“They both came from Mrs. Eagleton, didn’t they?”

“Yes,” Yuna answered, not sure why the sheriff hadn’t asked Ruthie herself.

“And were they grafted with that Seeder tree?”

Yuna frowned. “No.”

“You sure?”

Yuna sighed heavily. “Ruthie and I keep excellent records,” she finally answered. “We have a log of every single graft. None of them have gone wandering, and why does any of this—?”

“You’re the scientist, Doc,” he said. “You tell me: seem like a strange coincidence to you that the two trees that drew a hidebehind came from your grove?”

“Don’t be dim, Chick,” Yuna shot back.

It was the sheriff’s turn to frown.

“Charlie,” Yuna corrected before he untied the mad knot in his tongue. She twisted out of his grip and waved him back toward the wagon. “Just… get Ruthie home. I’m sure Abe’s worried sick about now.”

* * *

Yuna stared out into the grove as the sun set, the sound of Chick’s wagon swallowed by the wind through the leaves as he took Ruthie home.

Yuna watched the leaves on the Seeder tree turn mustard, then glow fire-red as the light shot through them on its way to rest. Everybody knew there was something special in Seeder trees. Tinpots, for all you rarely saw them, were looking out for folk. Fruit made a body feel refreshed even with just a bite. There was plenty of evidence it helped folks heal powerful quick. Bark even acted as a repellent to some of the nastier critters that roamed the wilds. It seemed a perfect plan back in the day to find out just how the tinpots did it. That kind of thing could help a lot of folks. And maybe make a name for the ladies who figured it out.

But the tree never had fruited. It grew strong, even grafted all right, but not a single blossom drew the bees and other pollinators. They couldn’t figure out just what sort of magic the tinpots bound up in the tree. Yuna found herself wondering now: if this tree weren’t calling bees, if it was off-kilter from their meddling, could it be calling something else?

Yuna shook her head. Chick was an idiot. She wasn’t about to take science advice from a man who didn’t have the sense to keep his face out of a briar patch. She felt a touch sorry for Ruthie, stuck on a longer ride with him, but knew soon enough she’d be home to Abe.

Yuna smiled and shook her head. There was a time Ruthie had been a bit unsure about Abe; then again, Abe felt the same about Ruthie. But given they were both sweet on Yuna—and Yuna just wasn’t built to give either of them what they wanted in that regard, though she loved them both dearly—it seemed the best plan for everyone as far as Yuna was concerned. And the wedding bells had proved her right, now, hadn’t they?

Yuna set a kettle to boil. Then she went to light some lanterns as red turned purple turned moonlight gray outside.

* * *

With the jackalope chase abandoned at the interruption, for a moment Yuna hadn’t seen the widow Wacéda at the edge of the grove. She had the same strong, wide stance she always did. The blues and reds of her leggings were bright as usual, like the vermillion she used in the part of her long, black hair. Then Yuna saw the sag in her shoulders. Stray hairs clung in the mourning clay caked over her face. Clay that was dry and cracked, except for the streaks in it that spread out from under Wacéda’s eyes.

“Jackalopes love whiskey,” Wacéda said after all three women had been standing around staring at each other for much too long.

“Wacéda,” Yuna said, like it was a race to get the next word out. “I … oh, darling, come inside and get off your feet,” she said. Ruthie was already running for the door.

“I’ll put on some tea,” Ruthie called back.

“Pie,” Wacéda said as the screen banged closed. Then it was just the two of them.

“Whiskey pie?” Yuna asked.

Wacéda smiled. It was thin, and ran away from the light as soon as it showed, but Yuna caught it. She walked over to the widow, took her shoulders in her hands, and squeezed just a little. Yuna wanted to hug her, but there surely was a pie in the woman’s hands.

“Rhubarb,” Wacéda corrected. She held the pie out. “Henry made it, but it’ll go bad before I can eat again, and…” she bit her lip as she jabbed her chin toward the front door. “Ruthie shouldn’t make tea on my account. I can’t drink it anyhow.”

Yuna nodded. She remembered how she had to calm Henry when Wacéda got news her brother passed. Four days fasting never hurt anybody, she assured him. He’d been about to argue when she tapped his belly and told him he could probably do with a day or two, himself. He’d stomped off like a schoolboy told he couldn’t go fishing on a Saturday morning.

“Ruthie makes tea every time the wind changes,” Yuna said, slipping an arm into the crook of her visitor’s. “Lets her check my larder. Abe’s always eating the sweets out from under her, so she pays me back for introducing her and Abe by sneaking some of mine. If she wasn’t the one who cultivated the tea in the first place, I’d have to scold her for how much of it we pour out every day.”

Wacéda looked down. It wasn’t a smile this time, but Yuna thought she felt her arm relax just a titch.

“Drink or no, it makes the place smell good, and good smells can be good for a body, so what say you and the pie come inside, and Ruthie and I’ll have tea while you tell us about jackalopes and whiskey?”

The tension came back when Yuna mentioned talking, but Wacéda shrugged.

“You’re the doctor,” she muttered.

“So I am,” Yuna said. She urged Wacéda toward the door. Though the widow dragged her feet a bit, she came along.

* * *

Yuna didn’t realize just how tense she’d gotten sifting through the past until the kettle whistled and she nearly smacked her head on the ceiling by jumping. She pulled the kettle off the stove and added leaves. This batch actually was from a graft with the Seeder tree. Didn’t work the kind of miracles Seeder fruit could, but as Yuna breathed in the scent a moment while it steeped, she felt some of her tension melt. Sometimes Ruthie’s tea-for-everything notions weren’t all wrong.

That didn’t stop Yuna from jumping again at the pounding on the door.

“Yuna?”

Yuna frowned and hurried to the door.

“Ruthie,” she chided as she opened it. “You’re like to have scared me out of my—”

Yuna’s throat closed up as she caught sight of Ruthie. Candlelight flickered across her eyes, empty and haggard. She swayed a bit, holding herself, rubbing the dark, red stains on her hands into the calico of her blouse.

“Abe’s dead, Yuna,” Ruthie said before Yuna could find her voice. She walked past Yuna. By the time Yuna had the sense to scramble after her, Ruthie was staring out the big back window, into the dark of the grove. Yuna stopped just inside the room when Ruthie spoke.

“I used to tease you,” Ruthie said, looking out into the grove, “didn’t make sense to me how your door couldn’t swing either way, especially with a couple of catches like Abe and me around. But now … I think you know better than the rest of us. Can’t lose anybody, the way you are.”

Yuna shook off the sting of the old talk. It didn’t matter right now. “Ruthie, are you all … is the sheriff with you?” she asked softly.

Ruthie laughed, but there was no mirth in it. It was a loud, braying thing that smacked against the walls, then fell to nothing as quick as it came.

“Dead, too,” Ruthie said, her tone flat like she was just declaring the grass green.

“Lord, Ruthie,” Yuna whispered. She started across the room, her stomach falling out inside her. “Hidebehind got both—?”

“I killed him,” Ruthie said. Yuna’s legs locked up on her. “Stabbed him right in the eye, good and proper.”

Yuna’s stomach came back with a knotted cramp. Her throat closed up again.

Seem like a strange coincidence to you that the two trees that drew a hidebehind came from your grove?

No.

Toxin of one stripe or another.

It wasn’t … no.

Gave him some of the new rhubarb …

She knew Ruthie. Knew her better than anyone.

Abe’s dead, Yuna.

Anyone still alive.

“Ruthie, I want you to remember how long you and me have been friends,” Yuna croaked out. Words. That was good. Now if she could just make them sound like she wasn’t a body dried up in the desert.

“Seven years,” Ruthie said, cocking her head as she watched the darkness outside. “About how long some folks say a hidebehind can go before it needs to feed each time. A body wonders: what’s a critter like that do in the meantime? Suppose it sleeps all that while, or does it just go docile? Turn friendly once it’s filled itself up?

“Hidebehind,” Ruthie gave a soft chuckle when she said it this time. “Hell of a thing, isn’t it? So fast it can’t be seen, except by those poor folks it eats the insides out of.”

“That’s how I understand it,” Yuna said, rubbing her hands along her arms.

“Seems like scientists ought to have better logic than that,” Ruthie said, shifting her weight. The moonlight quivered where it fell in the window, mixing with the shadows at play in the tight curls on the back of Ruthie’s head.

Yuna opened her mouth to answer, but all that came out was a squeak. She cleared her throat, swallowed, felt the lab table pressing into the small of her back as she realized she was leaning further away.

“You see the big flaw in that narrative, right?” Ruthie said, glancing back to Yuna for just a titch before staring back out into the grove.

Yuna just nodded, one hand sliding behind her, searching blindly on the surface of the table. She caught a glint of metal from something Ruthie was holding in front of her, at just the wrong angle to make out what contraption it might be.

Knife. You know it’s a knife.

“If the only people who ever see a hidebehind are its victims,” Ruthie said. “How would anyone know what it looks like at all, let alone that it was a critter?”

Yuna saw the blade as Ruthie turned to face her. Ruthie’s eyes seemed drawn to it, to the silver marred by what must have been red, but in the moonlight just looked black as oil. The quiver of moonlight and shadow played on Ruthie’s face. Yuna’s hand closed around … to be honest, she didn’t know what, and didn’t trust herself to look away and find out.

“A jackalope can sound just like folk, so it’s not like nature doesn’t know how to make a good mimic. What if,” Ruthie kept on, turning the blade loosely in her hand as she meandered across the room to Yuna, “the reason no one’s ever laid eyes on a critter that could be a hidebehind, is because they look just like folk?”

Yuna’s eyes felt hot. She itched on the crown of her head and behind the knees.

“Ruthie, please,” Yuna whispered as Ruthie’s frown deepened. Ruthie stopped moving, her gaze slowly drifting up to meet Yuna’s. Everything looked empty behind her eyes.

Yuna didn’t wait for the flashing metal to move. She lashed out with what she’d grabbed. Pestle, it turned out, as Yuna smacked Ruthie across the skull with it.

She ran as soon as she heard the crack of it, didn’t wait to see if Ruthie crumpled or changed. A hidebehind was faster than anything, but Yuna ran anyway.

The closest door outside was the one to the orchard. Yuna slammed it open and barreled into the moonlit night. She swerved between a row of ash trees, stumbled but didn’t fall when she snagged a sleeve on a mulberry branch. Then she caught sight of Chick, and nearly ran right into the shovel planted in the soft earth. She dodged just in time, then gaped at the sheriff.

Ruthie hadn’t lied: Yuna could see, in the slashes of moonlight falling through the leaves from the Seeder tree, the bloody hole where the sheriff’s left eye ought to be. But there the man stood, otherwise looking right as anything. He even smiled.

“Charlie … Ruthie, she’s … lord are you all right?”

“I’m tougher than you gals give me credit for,” Chick said, swaggering up to Yuna. He jabbed his sharp nose back toward the house. “Ruthie’s back up there, then?”

Yuna nodded. “I must have knocked her out, or else she’d already be on me. God, Charlie, how are you even upright?”

Chick laughed and shook his head. Yuna’s cheeks throbbed with her pulse.

“Listen to me, Charlie,” Yuna insisted, grabbing him by the shoulders. “I think you’re in shock, or maybe Ruthie slipped you something, like Henry Johannes’ rhubarb or whatever paralytic she used on Nat. Ruthie’d know the right plants. But this won’t last. We need to treat this before you bleed out or … ow!”

Yuna yanked her hands off the sheriff’s shoulders as something sharp dug into her palms.

The sheriff cocked his head and smiled. Yuna felt a chill as she saw the tiny cuts on her hands, looked back to see something spiky on his shoulders. Another something started wiggling behind the wound in his eye.

“That Ruthie, she’s a quick thinker,” Chick said. “Year or so ago, when there was still enough left inside this one, it might have killed him, that stab to the brain. Hell, you ever really took a look at his bellyache, that might have stopped me even sooner.”

Yuna felt her own belly knot as a vine started snaking out of the bloody wound where Chick’s eye used to be. Thorns along its length opened the wound wider.

“Now? Not much of anything can hurt me.”

“Charlie, don’t do this,” Yuna said, taking a few steps back.

“Don’t do this,” Yuna’s voice called again, somewhere behind the sheriff. He turned to look to the other voice long enough for Yuna to get her hands around the shovel. She smacked him across the face with it as he turned back.

Chick stumbled. Yuna hit him again. And again. She tried not to listen to the wet, heavy thunk as she smashed the shovel into his head, sent him reeling back. He reached out to steady himself. Though he’d made nearly no noise before, the sheriff screamed as his hand grabbed the bark of the Seeder tree for support. The tree, for its part, seemed to shudder at the touch.

Chick tried to pull away, but his hand might as well have been stuck with hot tar. He yanked and shrieked, the thorny vine twisting in the air where it peeked out from his eye. The briar vine ripped back inside Chick, and the sheriff’s whole body seemed to ripple.

He stopped screaming. Stopped making any noise a body who talked ought to make. There were just more wet, tearing noises. Yuna dropped the shovel, numb as she watched the ends of Charlie Lightle start to fall in on themselves. His hands and feet went flat as a child’s balloon once it’s popped. His face—what was left of it—shriveled. Legs and arms and knees and elbows were nothing but a wrinkled sack of skin collapsing.

His middle, though, swelled and writhed as whatever it was inside him pulled itself tight and close. Then it ripped through, about where the bottom half of Chick’s belly used to be. The vine wriggled its way out of the opening it made with its wicked thorns. Grew its way out of the skin sack. It coiled on the ground, a wild, nasty heap of bramble that pulsed in the play of moonlight through leaves.

When Yuna’s knees gave out, she realized it wasn’t shock numbing her. She looked down, to the punctures on her hands, and remembered the same shape to the ones on Nat.

The thorn vine started to rise up, taller than Chick stood, the top end swaying, then bending toward Yuna. A stupid little piece of briar, hiding behind the sheriff’s face. Now it wanted Yuna’s, and she could barely keep herself upright.

Jonni grow!” called Ruthie’s voice, but Yuna knew the jackalope wouldn’t distract the thing a second time, whether it called out Seeder blessings or some other nonsense.

“I said jonni grow you overgrown weed!” Ruthie yelled, grabbing the base of the bramble with her gardening gloves and shoving it against the trunk of the Seeder tree.

The vine shot forward. Yuna couldn’t even bring her arms up, though thorns that cut giant flesh would have shredded her own easy enough, anyway.

But the vine stopped short of her, whipped itself straight up, then slammed into the ground. And again. Thrashed about, full of all the strength that must have taken Henry, Natalie, Chick… Charlie. Back and forth, whipping and writhing, but there wasn’t a body to leave behind this time. Thorns stuck in the bark of the Seeder tree well and good, and as Ruthie ran into Yuna’s fuzzy view to drag her backward, the tree wasn’t letting go.

Ruthie poured something warm in Yuna’s mouth. It burned on the way down, but worked quickly. The edges of Yuna’s vision came back.

“Saw what happened when he touched the tree,” Ruthie said. “Figured had to hurt even more without skin between it and—”

The feeling now back in her arms, Yuna hugged Ruthie close. Ruthie hugged her back, and Yuna felt the catch in her throat open up again.

They sat there, propping each other up, until the hidebehind stopped convulsing. They held on as it withered and shrank to a tiny string of nothing. Neither one of them could breathe properly until the hidebehind crumbled into dust and blew away.

* * *

“And it won’t … Henry won’t…?” Wacéda asked. It was the day after the hidebehind met the tree. Wacéda’s mourning mud was washed away, though Ruthie was in her own black, now. She wouldn’t talk about Abe, wanted to focus on cleaning up the mess and the trouble. Yuna thought it better she faced what was gone. But then, Yuna wasn’t nearly as convinced she had the best ideas any more.

There was tea, because Ruthie figured no widow should hear this story if she couldn’t have tea to calm her nerves. Yuna’s contribution was the whiskey mixed in each cup.

Yuna shook her head. “When it took the sheriff, it left him alive,” she said. “Far’s we can tell, when it went after Henry, it wasn’t after a new skin—”

“—host,” Ruthie offered the softer word. Yuna nodded.

Wacéda knelt by the small mound of fresh earth, though she didn’t touch it. They’d buried what was left of Charlie near the tree. Just in case. Ruthie squeezed Yuna’s elbow. Yuna placed her hand over Ruthie’s.

Wacéda stood, glancing up at the branches. Then she frowned. “That’s new, isn’t it?”

“What?” Yuna and Ruthie asked in unison. They didn’t need to look to each other to feel a joint panic that the hidebehind might not have all shriveled. One of the teacups tipped over, but neither lady bothered with it until they could see.

“There,” Wacéda said, pointing to one of the lower branches. Yuna shaded her eyes and caught sight of it just as she heard Ruthie’s gasp.

“Blossom buds,” Ruthie said.

“Well, I never,” Yuna added.

“Never!” called another Yuna voice close behind them. All three women whipped around, where a four point jackalope cocked its head at them a moment, then went back to lapping up the tea mixed with whiskey where it had spilled.