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Jumper was going about his business as usual, hunting succulent bugs to eat. He had happened upon a puddle of ointment, and knew there would be flies in it. He was just about to nab a fat fly, taking care not to get stuck in the slimy stuff himself—whereupon a hook swung down from the sky and caught him by the scruff of his chitin. It hauled him up, up, and away, dizzyingly.
Then it dropped him into another scene. This was strange beyond his experience. The ointment was gone, and with it the delectable fly. The plants were thick-stemmed and woody, reaching into the sky, sheathed in clusters of green leaves. Some were small green blades hugging the ground. There was a bird, but no threat to him because it was so small as to be no bigger than a mite. Weird!
Jumper suffered a tweak of memory. His great-to- the-nth grandfather, the original Jumper, had had experience with such a realm. Where was it?
There was a scream. Jumper reacted before he thought, getting there in a single bound. Jumping was of course his nature; he could cover many times his body length per jump, and make a perfect landing. He was, after all, a free- ranging spider.
It was—his distant tenth-hand memory tweaked—a man, grabbing a girl. Girls needed protecting. So he extended a foreleg, caught the man by the scruff, heaved him up, and threw him away. The man landed in a prickle bush, yelped, looked at Jumper, yelped again, and fled.
“Xx, xxxxx xxx!” the girl cried, getting to her two thick feet.
Jumper clicked his mandibles in confusion. He did not speak girl talk. He was trying to figure out what a girl was doing in this scene. Girls were properly of the giant realm.
She gazed at him, then went to the side and fetched something squirmy. She brought it to him. She held it up with one of her forelegs.
Jumper reached out a foreleg and took it. It seemed to be a writhing nest of greenish leaves. What was he supposed to do with it?
The girl made a gesture as of putting something in her mouth part. Oh—this was edible? He lifted it to his own mouth, to taste it. But the thing immediately squirmed into his mouth and filled it with twisting strands.
“Oh, thank yew!” the girl exclaimed, exactly as before.
“You're welcome,” Jumper said.
Then he paused, astonished. Not only had he understood her, he had replied in her own language. How could that be?
“It's the tongues,” the girl said. “I gave yew the gift of tongues. So we could talk.”
“Tongues?” he asked, perplexed. There was something funny about the way she talked, without any clicking of mandibles; could this explain it?
“It's a kind of plant,” she clarified. “It enables a person to relate to any language. Yew saved me from getting abused by that village lout, and I wanted to thank yew. So I had to enable yew to talk. Yew can spit out the tongues now, if yew want.”
He considered that. “First, can you tell me where this is? I am not familiar with this scene.”
“Well, yew woodn't be. Yew're a spider, aren't yew? A big one. Yew must bee from far away. This is Xanth proper.”
“Xanth proper! That's where my ancestor was.”
“I dew knot know about him, but yew came in on a narrative hook. I saw it drop yew here. I was so surprised that I was knot careful, and that lout caught me. Then yew rescued me. I really dew appreciate that. Most creatures woodn't have bothered.”
“A narrative hook?”
“It's a device to catch someone up in a story right away. Once it hooks yew, yew can't leave the scene.”
Jumper wasn't satisfied with that, so he changed the subject. “Why wouldn't someone else have bothered to help you? You seem like a nice girl, for your species.”
“My species. There's the rub. Yew see, I'm knot really a girl.”
“You're not? You look like one.”
“From the front.”
“You seem to have a nice front.” She was bare, and shapely. He was remembering the descriptions handed down to the descendants by the original Jumper. Girls were supposed to have thin forelegs, thick hind legs, and fleshy cones on their torsos. She did.
“But I'm really a woodwife.”
“Wood? Trees are wood. They have wives?”
“No, silly! I am made of hollow wood. See.” She turned around.
Jumper stared. From the back he saw that she was indeed hollow. Her round limbs and cones were empty, as was her head. Her shaped front outside was all there was of her.
She completed her turn and faced him again. “So you see, I am something else. I wish I could bee a real girl, so I could make some real man happy, and not bee stalked by village louts who dew knot care what's inside as long as they can poke it from outside. But that simply is knot my nature.”
“I … see,” he said, orienting about three of his eight
eyes on her. It didn't help; she remained the shell of a woman.
“And that is knot the worst of it. Com Pewter wants to make me into a Mother Board to fix his obsolescence. Because my animation is all in my wood shell. I could knot stand being shut up like that, so I'm fleeing civilization. Knot that I was ever part of it; I am an innocent woodland creature.”
“I understand. I wouldn't like it either.”
“But that's no concern of yewrs. Yew saved me this time, and I'll bee more careful next time. I'm really grateful. Is there any favor I can dew yew in return?”
“Can you tell me how to return to my own realm?” She shook her head. “Yew can knot return, once yew've been hooked. Yew have to finish the narrative.”
“But I was about to catch a succulent fly!”
“I'm sorry about that—what's your name?”
“I'm sorry, Jumper. I'm Wenda. Wenda Woodwife, a fantasy female. I dew knot know why the narrative hook caught yew and put yew here; maybe it was just an accident. But yew're stuck in my world for the duration.”
“But I'm not comfortable here!” That was an under statement, but he wasn't sure how to fill it out to full strength.
“I understand, I think. I'm knot comfortable being a fake girl; yew're knot comfortable being in an alien environment. Too bad we can knot solve each other's problems.” Then she paused, looking at him. “What is that?”
“My carapace?” he asked. “I wear my skeleton on the outside. Not that I have much of one. I am mostly soft body and hard legs.”
“No, that thing stuck to yewr back.” She stepped forward and reached for it. It turned out to be a square paper with markings on it.
“I didn't know about that,” he said, surprised.
“It's like a label, identifying yew.”
“I know who I am. A lost spider.”
She studied it. “I think yew had better read it, Jumper. It seems to relate to yew.” She handed it back to him.
Jumper took it with one foreleg and oriented an eye on it. To his surprise he found he could read. The tongues really were versatile.
A Hero unfurls the Bra & Girlls
The Good Magician will set the mission
Like the Ogre beware rogue her
Win Heart and Mind but be not blind
The Unicorn betrays the scorn
And Button Ghost unmasks the Host.
Jumper looked up. “This makes little if any sense to me. What hero? What girls? What Ogre? What Unicorn? What Ghost?”
“I dew knot know. It may bee part of your problem I can knot solve.” She smiled. “Maybee it is part of the tangled web yew weave to confuse people.”
Jumper folded the mystical note and tucked it under a fold of his carapace. “I think I could solve your problem, at least. All you need is girl clothing and someone to watch your back to make sure no one else sees it.”
“Clothing! Woodwives dew knot wear clothing.”
“So it would make you seem more like a real girl.”
Her little mouth dropped open. “It wood, woodn't it? I never thought of that.”
“Well, you're a forest creature. It shows in your speech.” She considered. “Clothing makes me think of the antistreaking agent.”
“It is something to put in wash water. It messes up the fauns and nymphs something awful, because then they
can knot streak.”
“I don't understand.”
She paused, assessing his incomprehension. “It is complicated. But I might bee able to solve yewr problem, or tell yew how to. I thought it was just chance that brought me here right when yew arrived, but maybee that hook had a reason to drop yew near me. Because maybee we can help each other. What yew need to dew is go ask the Good Magician, as yewr Prophecy suggests.”
“I don't believe I know him, or even where he is. Would he know the answer?”
“He knows the answer to everything. All yew have to dew is ask. Only then he makes yew pay for it with a year's service, or equivalent. So maybe that's knot for yew.”
Now Jumper considered. “If the alternative is to stay here in this foreign habitat, I might be better off with that year.” Then he reconsidered. “Except for one thing.”
“Spiders of my type live only about six months.”
“But yew're much bigger now. Shouldn't yew live lon ger? At least in this realm? Maybee six months in yewr realm is sixty years in this one.”
He wasn't sure. “Maybe so. If I knew where to find him.”
“I am beginning to think that maybee we can after all help each other, as I said. I wood like to ask the Good Magician how to become a full girl instead of a half girl, and how to escape Com Pewter, who can change reality in his vicinity. But it's a dangerous trip, and there are many louts along the way. I wood never make it on my own with my innocence intact. But if I traveled with yew, no lout would bother me.”
“You know the way there?”
“Yes. An enchanted path leads to it. I wood be happy to show yew.”
“Then let's do it.”
“Let's dew it,” she agreed.
He thought of something else. “The lout was afraid of me. Why weren't you?”
“Because spiders suck the juices out of succulent bugs. I'm knot succulent. I'm made of wood. I merely look succulent from the front. The front of a girl is all a lout cares about.”
That explained it, to an extent. “But if you aren't soft and juicy, how can the louts hurt you?”
“They dew knot suck. They inject. I am soft enough from the front.”
Jumper still did not quite understand, but decided to let it be. “Then let's get you dressed. Do you have any clothing?”
“I know where all the clothing plants are. There's a shoe tree nearby, and a pantree, and a hat rack, and all.”
Jumper followed as she busily harvested assorted clothing. Then he helped her put it on. It fit well in front, but hung loose behind. They had to put a leafy branch behind her, which he fastened in place with sticky web. That supported her panties and bra, which he also taped in place.
Then she donned a shirt and skirt, similarly tacked down. Finally she put on lady slippers from another obliging plant, and a dainty feminine hat that helped anchor her hair to conceal the hollow back of her head.
They went to a calm pool of water and looked down. “Oh!” Wenda exclaimed, delighted. “I look ravishing!”
“Good enough to eat,” Jumper agreed. Then he reconsidered. “Not that I would.”
“Knot that yew wood,” she agreed, laughing. “I'm inedible.”
They set out for the Good Magician's castle. “This magician—I know nothing of him. My ancestors did not mention him. Is he a formidable character?”
“I understand he's a grumpy old man who does knot give clear answers. But somehow they always work out.”
“I hope so. I am not comfortable in this odd realm.”
“We will locate an enchanted path that will knot only lead us there, it will guarantee that there are no bad dangers. That's the point of the enchantment: to protect innocent travelers. So yew won't have to worry about danger.”
“But then why did you say the trek is dangerous?”
“Dangerous for me, because of the louts. They think that all girls want to be hugged and kissed indiscriminately. That's only the beginning. The enchantment does knot consider the loss of innocence a threat.”
“Spiders aren't much for hugging and kissing,” he agreed. “But I thought human girls liked it.”
“Only with the right man. A lout is knot right. A lout would just yews me, knot make me a woman.”
“Couldn't you just tell him not to?”
“Louts dew knot listen well. That's why they're louts.”
This was evidently more complicated than he understood. “I can keep the louts from you.”
An innocuous creature approached them, clearly no threat to anyone. But Wenda was alarmed. “Dew knot let it close!”
“But it is harmless,” he protested as she guided him to a place behind a big tree.
“No. I know the forest predators. That's a No gard.”
“I don't understand.”
“Backwards for Drag on. He's pretending to bee harm less, putting yew off yewr guard until he can get close enough to chomp yew.”
Sure enough, as the creature passed by the tree and they saw the other side of it, it was a horrendous toothy smoky reptilian creature. Quite big enough to chomp Jumper. A dragon.
“You saved me,” Jumper said.
“Well, yew saved me first.”
He experienced a largely unfathomable emotion. “I … feel good about you. I don't know why.”
“Yew like me,” she said. “And I like yew. We are be coming friends.”
“Spiders don't have friends.”
“Maybee they dew when they are in our realm.”
That was evidently the case. “What do friends do with each other?”
“They help each other, and enjoy each other's company, and are sad when they part.”
“Friends,” he agreed, satisfied.
They came to a clearing in the forest. Suddenly a wind stirred up. It caught one of Jumper's legs. “Ouch!” he said, expressing discomfort in the human tongue.
“Oh, it's a biting wind,” Wenda said. “We'll have to go around this region.”
Jumper would have preferred to bite the wind back, but there was nothing to chomp on. So they circled the clearing, going behind trees, where the wind could not get at them well enough to bite.
As they completed their circuit, one of Jumper's eight sharp eyes spotted something to the side. It looked like a bare human leg. But it was gone before he could get a second eye on it.
“Something may be stalking us,” he said.
“The woods are full of stalkers,” Wenda said. “How big is it?”
“All I saw was a leg, perhaps the size of yours.”
“That could bee anything from a goblin to a troll. Dew knot let it come close; they're even worse than louts.” “I will remain alert. If I catch it, is it all right to eat it?”
“Well, I guess so. But I understand goblins taste awful. At least the ugly male ones dew.”
“They probably don't much resemble fat bugs,” Jumper said with regret.
“The enchanted path is knot far from here. Then we'll bee safe from such threats.”
They came across a human man sitting under a tree. He looked up and saw Wenda. “Well, now,” he said. Then he saw Jumper. “Stay away!” he cried. “My name is Oxalate. I can change the amount of oxygen in the air. If you come close I'll smother you.”
“What are yew talking about?” Wenda demanded.
“If I increase the oxygen enough, the air may burst into flame. If I decrease it, no one can breathe, and it can stifle a fire. So don't let that monster come close.”
“This is Jumper,” Wenda said. “He is knot going to eat yew.”
“Well, I don't want to risk it.”
“Then we will leave yew alone,” Wenda said, and walked on. Jumper followed her.
“Why did you do that?” he asked when they were alone again.
“Yew are my friend, are yew knot? He was knot being nice to yew.”
Excerpted from Jumper Cable by Piers Anthony Jacob.
Copyright © 2009 by Piers Anthony Jacob.
Published in 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.