It was a beautiful, clear, starry night. Everything was calm; everyone living at 1334 Beechwood was content; no big problems had erupted during at least the past twenty-four hours. Everything was as it should be.
And Mike couldn’t sleep.
He sighed, rolling over in bed. It wasn’t too bad tonight… but sometimes, when he was worrying about something or had been worrying about it recently he got that tight, scared feeling in his gut that wouldn’t go away. Mike never told anybody about it, but it was there sometimes, and it was there tonight.
Finally, giving up on sleep, Mike rolled out of bed, making sure he didn’t wake Micky as he left the room.
He decided to go for a walk. Usually, he just sat downstairs until the panicky feeling went away, but tonight, Mike felt like walking it off.
Once on the beach, some of the tension began to subside. Mike sighed, hunching his shoulders forward as he started to walk.
The cave where Peter had gone just before his decision to go back to normal caught Mike’s eye. (If Peter comes here when he’s upset, maybe it’ll calm me down.)
As Mike approached the cave, however, he could see that someone was already there. Upon closer inspection, that someone appeared to be Peter. Mike stood still for a moment, uncertain whether or not he should let Peter see him.
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Peter was saying, evidently to himself. “I just can’t sleep, that’s all.”
Mike kept quiet.
Peter smiled, as if in response to something. “Somehow I don’t think eating would tire me out, but thank you anyway, Cotton.”
(Cotton? Wasn’t that the name of the fish Peter was talking to the other day?) Mike thought about that for a moment. (Yep…that was the name. But why is he still talking to a fish?)
“Okay. Good night,” Peter said, patting something in the water. With a soft swish, a shadowy figure swam out to the sea, past Mike.
Peter looked up and saw him. “Oh…Michael! Hi! What are you doing up?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” He sat beside Peter on the ledge. “You?”
“Same thing. Couldn’t sleep, so I came out here to calm down.” He smiled up at the stars. “It is beautiful out here.”
“That it is.” Mike chewed on his lip for a second. “Cotton came back, huh?”
Peter’s grin grew. “Yeah. He’s getting so big! He’s eight months old now and about half his adult length and…” He laughed. “And I’m rambling.”
“Do you talk to him often?”
“As often as I can. It’s kinda nice to know I’ve got a friend other than you guys…. That came out wrong…”
Mike grinned. “I know what you meant. So – uhm – you’re sort of a living Doctor Doolittle, huh?”
Peter shrugged bashfully. “Well… kind of. I don’t know how it works exactly… but… I can talk to them.”
“Is it just fish…sharks,” Mike amended. “Or is it….?”
“Everything, pretty much,” Peter said. “Not plants, I don’t think. But animals, sure.”
“I think it’s great,” Mike said.
Peter looked at Mike with some surprise. “You do?”
Mike nodded. “Sure. Not just anybody can do that, y’know. Takes talent … which, evidently, you’ve got.”
Peter blushed. “Thank you.”
“So what’s Cotton’s story?”
Peter smiled. “He’s all alone. Been separated from his parents for a few months now. Kind of latched onto me that night I pulled that bit of shark dentistry.” He laughed and touched the tooth, which he wore on a leather thong around his neck. “Still can’t believe I did something so stupid.”
“And he’s tame?”
“Oh, no, he’s a wild animal – but he’s a scared kid who found a friend. He won’t hurt me or you guys. He knows you all by sight and scent – he’s seen and smelled us on the beach. He loves to tag along under the water while Micky surfs.”
Mike did a double-take at that, and then he asked, “Uhm, Peter… have you told the others about this yet?”
Two days later, Peter no longer had a choice at keeping it secret. Micky came racing out of the bathroom, dripping and waving his arm and shrieking about “SNAKE! There’s a snake in the bathroom!”
Peter looked at Mike. Mike looked at Peter. As one, they rose to their feet and headed for the bathroom.
Peter pulled the curtain to the shower/tub aside and sure enough, a large, distinctly diamond-shaped head peered out at him from the top of the showerhead. A forked tongue reached out to taste the air and sense who this newcomer was.
“Good night on Broadway,” Mike hissed in pure shock.
The python wrapped around the faucets was a good eight feet long – and that was all that was visible! Goodness knows how much of it remained in the air duct it was slowly unfolding from!
Peter stepped forward, totally unafraid. “Hello,” He said cheerfully, holding out his hand and not flinching as the forked tongue slid over his palm, collecting his taste and scent. “I’m Peter. I live here. What’s your name and how can we help you?”
“Peter?” Micky said, eyes wide. “What are you doing?”
“Shh, Mick. Let him concentrate,” Mike said, watching Peter.
Peter nodded, as if in response to something. “Right. Oh, don’t worry about that. We won’t hurt you.”
Davy and Micky looked with some surprise at Mike, but Mike ignored them for the moment.
Peter cocked his head, listening intently. “Oh?”
“Later,” Mike whispered to Micky and Davy, if only so they wouldn’t ask any more questions.
Peter frowned. “That’s terrible! Well, here… let me see…”
Slowly, the snake withdrew the last bit of itself from the vent. To everyone’s surprise (Except Peter’s), the last few inches of the snake’s tail were flattened and mangled. It had evidently been crushed.
“Ouch,” Peter said. “Wait a minute. I’ll get some bandages from the medicine cabinet… those should help.” Before too long, he’d wrapped up the snake’s tail. The snake simply sat there, waiting patiently. “How did that happen, if you don’t mind my asking?” Peter waited a beat, as if hearing an answer, and then his jaw dropped and his eyes welled up with tears. “Oh… that’s so sad…” He sniffled, and then nodded. “Okay. You’re welcome. Good luck getting back home. Sure. Bye.”
Without a word, the snake turned back the way it had come and slithered back through the vent.
Micky’s eyebrows were almost hidden in his hairline. “What was that?”
Peter turned to the guys sorrowfully. “She and her family got in the way of some hikers… her babies got stepped on and crushed…” Peter started to cry. “They didn’t even see what they’d done.”
Mike patted his shoulder awkwardly once, then with a soft, “Hell with it,” gathered him in his arms and soothed him with a hug.
When he got himself under control, Peter pulled back and sniffled.
“You okay now, shotgun?”
He nodded. “I think so.” He turned and frowned slightly. “What is it?”
Micky and Davy were just gaping at him, each of them pale.
“You…the snake…and you did the thing…with the….but it….huh?” Micky asked, looking extremely confused.
“Yeah, what he said,” Davy said, pointing to Micky. “How’d you know what was wrong with the snake?”
“Oh, that. Well, remember the computer thing?” Peter asked.
“Yeah,” Micky and Davy said in unison.
“Well, the computer smartness went away, but I found out I have some of my own.” Peter smiled brightly. “I can learn almost any human language and … animals understand me, and I understand them.”
“Is that how you…with the….and he…and you…?” Micky asked.
Peter nodded. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“WOW! You could make a million dollars with that!” Micky said.
“Found your tongue, I see,” Mike said dryly.
”I don’t want to use it for money,” Peter said adamantly, shaking his head. “I just think it’s a neat thing to be able to do.”
“Sure. But you could be, like, the most famous person in the world! And I… I could be the guy who shares a house with the most famous person in the world!” Micky said excitedly.
“Way to live in reality, man,” Davy said with a sly grin.
“I don’t want to be famous, either,” Peter said, “Micky, promise you won’t tell anybody?”
“Sure, I guess so,” Micky said, frowning. “But I don’t get why you don’t want people to know about this.”
“Man, can you imagine the trashy newspaper headlines once they’re done with him?” Mike asked. “This is Peter we’re talking about.”
“Oh,” Micky said, nodding. “Yeah, okay. I guess I understand that. I promise, Pete.”
Peter smiled. “Thanks, Micky.”
The python made another visit to them, and Peter checked her tail. “Looking a little better, there. How are you doing?”
She let out an almost human sigh.
“That good, huh?” Peter sat down on the tub and wrapped both arms around the large form, laying his cheek on top of the diamond-shaped head. Even he was amazed at times by his lack of fear of any animals anymore.
In reply, the serpent coiled lightly around his body, hugging him but not constricting him. She soaked up the affection and genuine concern and returned it in her own way.
Mike walked into the bathroom, and after a split-second of panic, he recognised the snake. “How’s she doin’?”
Peter smiled at him, “Her tail’s getting better; she can move the tip again. But she misses her babies fiercely.”
“Do snakes have husbands?”
Peter shook his head. “But she’s looking for another male python to mate with. She knows it can’t replace her first litter, but…”
Mike reached out his hand, and then paused. Peter nodded, and he touched the large head, smiling at the cool silkiness of her scales. “Guess some women of every species are born mothers.”
“And she’s definitely one.” Peter smiled as he watched Mike stroke the snake – and her let him. “Her name’s Jade.”
“Peter... you’ve got a real gift here, you know?” Mike said.
Peter ducked his head, blushing a little. “Yeah, I do.”
Micky came rushing in. “Okay, is the snake in the bed yours, Peter?”
Peter frowned. “Another snake?” He looked at Jade. “Hang on a minute, Jade…sit here with Mike. I’ll be right back.”
Mike looked at Jade. “Hiya, Jade. I don’t know if you can understand me… and I pretty much can’t understand you…so I guess I’m just talking to hear myself talk.” He chuckled. “Sorry…never quite figured out what to say to a snake.”
Peter came rushing back in. “Jade! Great news! There’s a male waiting upstairs for you!”
“How’d he hear about this?” Mike asked, eyebrow raised.
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know… word among snakes travels fast, I guess.”
Once Jade’s tail vanished behind the door, Peter shut it. He came downstairs grinning. “Let’s give them privacy to do what they do.”
This is too weird!” Micky blurted out. “First we find you’re some kind of Doctor Doolittle, and now two snakes are banging in the bedroom!!!!”
Mike gave Micky a Look. “Micky. Language.”
“Well, I’m not all that excited about living in the Malibu Zoo!” Micky protested. “Couldn’t you take care of your animal friends outside, at least?”
“Micky, that’s not fair,” Peter said. “Jade came here for help. She was upset. Imagine how you’d feel if you’d lost all your children.”
“I don’t have any children, and I still say it’s weird living in a menagerie,” Micky retorted.
Mike sighed. “I think what we need is some kind of compromise here... Peter, you think you could spread the word so that the animals would know to come to one specific place in the house or something?” Mike smiled slightly. “It’d save Micky from doing his daily run for help around the house.”
“Oh, ha ha,” Micky said.
“Sure, I could do that,” Peter said, nodding.
“Put a little sign up: All animals report immediately to the back stairs,” Micky said jokingly.
“Micky, there have only been…” Peter paused. “Three.”
Micky frowned. “Three? Jade, the guy snake upstairs, and … who else?”
“Well, Cotton, but he wasn’t hurt,” Peter said. “He just wanted a friend.”
Micky looked at Mike, confused. “Cotton?”
“A baby great white,” Mike explained.
“A SHARK?!?!” Micky screeched. “There’s a shark in here?”
“No, Micky, out in the cove,” Peter said with a grin. “He can’t live out of water.”
“Oh, well that makes it just hunky-dory – A shark??” Micky sighed. “That’s it… I’m going nuts. I’m truly going bonkers here.”
Ignoring him, Peter looked at Mike. “He does have a point – the back stairs would be the best place. The deck and everything….”
Mike nodded. “So spread the word and let’s get started.”
From the downstairs bedroom came a sudden shriek. Peter, Mike and Micky ran for the door, and just as they reached it, it opened. Davy came out, looking pale, an equally startled kitten clinging to the top of his head. “Would someone mind getting Fluffy here off my hair?”
Peter laughed a little, moving next to Davy and extending his hands so the kitten could climb aboard, which it did.
“Million-dollar head, this,” Davy groused, brushing kitty fur from his hair.
“Hi, little fella,” Peter said, cuddling the small kitten close to his chest. “What’s the matter?” He looked at Davy, then Micky. “Wait…let’s go out to the deck. And if you don’t mind, if any of your friends ever want to come see me, could you tell them to please wait on the deck?” He paused, listened, and nodded. “Thank you.”
Mike followed several steps behind Peter as Peter made his way to the desk, just to see what Peter was going to do.
“Lost?” Peter was saying softly as he stroked the tiny kitten. “How did you get lost?...oh, I see.”
Mike smiled. (Talk about some animals being born mothers… Peter’s practically one, too. He’s a nurturer, anyway.)
“Are you hungry?” Peter asked. “All right… I’ll see if we have any tuna fish. Wait here.” He set the kitten on the deck and the kitten waited there, blinking expectantly at the door as Peter went back into the house and headed for the kitchen.
“Someday you gotta teach me how to do that,” Mike said, smiling at Peter as he went by.
“Teach you how to do what?” Peter asked with a smile as he got the tuna.
“Talk to the animals.”
“I wish I could,” he sighed. “Then maybe I could have come help…. I feel a bit overwhelmed, Michael….”
Mike squeezed his shoulder “All you gotta do is tell me what to do to help, and consider it done.”
Peter blinked. “Tell…you?”
Mike nodded. “You can understand them. I can’t.” He nodded again. “Consider me a partner in this. You just tell me what to do, and I’m there.”
“Me too,” Micky said. “Just no more snakes for me….”
“Me three,” Davy said. “We’re in this together, mate.”
Peter smiled. “Thanks, guys.” He started cranking the can opener to get the tuna. “I didn’t expect this kind of response… I mean, how would a kitten know about me? Or was it coincidence? I didn’t think cats and snakes talked much….”
“What’re you asking us for?” Mike said, smiling slightly.
Peter emptied the tuna into a dish, shrugging. “I don’t know. But we have to get Pumpkin back to his owner.”
“They named a guy cat Pumpkin?” Micky asked skeptically.
“Yeah, his owner’s a little girl named Katie,” Peter said with a smile. “Pumpkin was a Halloween present.” He carried to tuna out to Pumpkin. Mike, Micky and Davy looked at each other and smiled.
“He’s doing great,” Davy said.
“Yeah, he is,” Mike agreed.
Peter stuck his head in the door, looking pale. “Uh…guys?”
“What?” all three of them asked in unison.
“Could you…come out here for a minute?” Peter asked.
It didn’t take long for Mike, Micky and Davy to see why Peter had asked them to come out.
Up the deck and all the way down the stairs, there was a long line of animals.
Peter swayed a bit. “….too loud…too many voices….” He staggered backward into Mike’s arms and Mike dragged him inside.
Frightened, the animals scattered. Only Jade, Pumpkin, and two others remained.
A baby lion who was more interested in pouncing Jade’s tail than leaving.
And a tall white unicorn, who seemed barely tangible in the sea-mist.
“Mike! That’s a…thing!” Micky said, pointing at the unicorn.
“Yeah, Micky, it is a thing,” Mike said wryly.
Micky crossed his arms, looking sourly at Mike. “You know what I mean.”
“Unicorn, isn’t it?” Davy said nonchalantly.
“Yes…she is,” Peter said softly, shaking his head as he picked himself up and came back outside. “She says she’s the last, but that she’s here for a special reason…”
“What would that be?” Mike asked.
“She…she won’t say!” Peter half-wailed. “Says it’s not time yet!”
“Lovely, like that’s a help,” Davy sighed. “I’ll go see if I can’t rescue Jade from that kitten.”
“I’ll find this Katie Pumpkin belongs to,” Micky said. “See if I can get him home.”
“And I’ll go see if I can’t get that horse to talk to you,” Mike said. He took a step forward.
Peter’s hand landed on his arm. “You… you can’t.”
“Why, cause I can’t understand her?”
Peter shook his head. “Cause you’ve been with a woman, Michael. She says only virgins and faithful marrieds can touch her.”
Mike sighed. “Well, damn.”
“She says only…two of us…can touch her.”
“Two of us?” Mike and Micky looked at each other and blushed.
Peter’s eyes turned to a rapidly reddening Davy. “Two of us.”
Micky’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve gotta be putting me on. Casanova Jones here can…?”
Mike shrugged. “Hey, who am I to argue with a horse chick? I’ll take care of Jade and Davy can try to talk to her.”
Micky was still looking at Davy. “Huh. I never would’ve thought…” Then he picked up Pumpkin and headed out the door.
Peter looked at Davy, who was still bright red in colour. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, David.”
“Well, you know, they always tease me about all the girls I date, so…” Davy shrugged. “Didn’t want to give them any more fodder for it.”
Peter smiled. “Fodder. Bad horse pun.”
Davy smiled back. “Hey, I hadn’t even thought of that.” He turned to the unicorn, patting her gently on the neck. “Now, what’s this all about, then?”
She lowered her head and touched her horn to his chest. Davy moaned at the feeling that spread through him.
“Davy?” Peter reached for him, only to fall to his knees as Davy collapsed. “DAVY!”
Mike came racing out. “What’s going on here?”
Peter pointed to Davy. “She touched him with her horn, and she…he…”
Davy opened his eyes, attempting to haul himself to his feet. “I’m sorry I caused you to worry. I didn’t mean to hurt your friend.”
Mike blanched. “Davy?”
“He’s here,” Davy said simply, “but I needed a vessel through which to communicate with all of you.” He gestured to himself. “This will do nicely.”
“I don’t believe this,” Mike murmured. “You’re the horse?”
“Unicorn, please,” Davy said. “We don’t really like being called ‘horses’.”
“Unicorn, then.” Peter took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “How can we help you?”
Davy smiled. “I am the last of my kind, but I carry the seeds of the future within me.”
Peter walked over and touched the rounded belly. “She’s pregnant, Michael,” he whispered.
Both Davy and the unicorn nodded. “I need your help as I carry three within me. I am vulnerable in these last days of my term and I need protection.” His yes met Peter’s. “And who better than the Communicator?”
“Three?” a returning Micky asked.
“Yes… two who will recreate the race and one that is not bound by the limitations of purity. He is a gift for you all – for your generosity.”
“I don’t understand,” Mike said.
The unicorn’s large eyes looked at him as Davy said, “That one can tolerate the touch and speech of those who had not the patience to remain pure. Bearing him was a burden for me until I was told he was a gift.”
“Generosity?” Mike asked.
“Your human nature is to reject things different from you, things that you cannot understand. A Communicator has arisen in your midst – and while you tease, it is only to make him laugh. While you laugh, it is with, not at. He is as different from you as I am – yet you welcome him. This gift is to bind you together into the unit the Communicator will need.” Davy took a deep breath and the unicorn finished through him, “A Communicator needs a Unit with him. If he tries to do his vast work alone, the price is madness. With a Unit, there are only rewards.”
“Unit. I like that,” Micky said with a grin.
“Okay,” Mike said carefully. “So… we have to protect you, I can dig that. But from what?”
“In time,” Davy said. “But, for now, I must rest. This is…difficult for me.” Both Davy and the unicorn looked at Peter. “You understand.”
“I’m beginning to,” Peter said softly.
Davy shuddered, and then looked around. “That was the strangest thing…”
“Maybe I’d better tell you what happened,” Micky began.
“No, I heard it all,” Davy said, holding up a hand to stop Micky. “Thanks.”
“This isn’t gonna be easy, you know,” Micky said.
Mike shrugged. “The good stuff never is.”
Peter looked at the unicorn, then at Mike. “She says you’re very right.”
Mike smiled and nodded at the unicorn. “Thanks, lady.”
“She likes that name,” Peter said. “She doesn’t know how to say her name in our language… it doesn’t translate… but she says we can call her ‘Lady’.”
“Sounds good to me,” Davy said, smiling at the unicorn.
Micky nodded. “Lady it is.”
Peter suddenly ducked as the unicorn crashed to the ground with a whinny of pain. He flew to her side, then bellowed, “Davy, get over here! I need help, and you’re the only other one who can touch her!”
Davy did. “What’s wrong, mate? What is it?”
“Lady’s gone into labour!”
“That was sudden,” Micky said, making a face. “Is there anything we can do?”
“Lady says not,” Peter responded promptly. “Davy… would you mind stroking her mane while I try to … you know… it might calm her down.”
“Be glad to,” Davy answered, moving to the unicorn’s head and smoothing her silky mane with his fingers.
“Peter, you’re gonna need some water or something,” Mike said, starting for the kitchen. “I’ll get it….”
“And towels!” Davy called after them.
When they returned, Davy took a towel and began to rub down a male foal, white as his mother. Peter delivered a second male, this one a roan colour, and called for Micky to help him.
Micky froze. “I—I can’t! I ‘m not a---“
“This is ours!” Peter said. “You can, you won’t hurt this unicorn!”
Micky began to rub it down as Peter delivered a pure white female foal, and began to rub her down himself.
Lady lifted her head weakly and looked at Peter.
“She said she doesn’t have the strength to talk through Davy right now.” Peter paused. “Oh, no!”
“What? What’d she say?” Mike asked.
“She said…” Peter was quiet for a minute as tears started to run down his face. “She said she’s dying.”
“That can’t be!” Davy said. “I’ll…there must be something I can do! I’ll….”
Peter shook his head. “She says it’s too late. She says… she says the only thing she wants is…” He fought back tears.
“What?” Micky asked gently.
“She wants us to take her babies home,” Peter said softly.
“How?” Mike asked quietly.
Peter nodded after a moment. “I know where now,” he said, running his fingers through her mane. Then he looked up at his friends, tears running down his cheeks. “Michael…Micky… she wants you both to--- to p-pet her.”
Davy blinked. “But in the state she’s in, that would kill her faster!”
“She knows. To keep her children from following her into death, she has to die quickly, before they realise what’s going on.” He met his other friends’ eyes. “She wants this,” he whispered. “Please… she’s suffering.”
For a second, nobody moved.
Mike was the first to speak. “Okay, Lady,” he said softly. “Okay.” Moving forward, he stroked her mane – and gasped as he felt a slight tingling sensation in his fingers.
“She says it’s okay. Keep going,” Peter whispered.
Micky reached out tentatively and began to rub her back gently. The same tingling sensation surprised him, but at Peter’s nod, Micky continued.
Mike leaned down and whispered into Lady’s ear, too softly for anyone else to hear. “I’m so sorry….”
Lady looked at him for a moment with big, sad eyes, and then she touched him briefly with her horn. She did the same to Micky, Davy, and last of all, Peter. To the side, her children were still laying on the towels with which they’d been rubbed off. Lady did not look at them.
“She says to take care of them,” Peter whispered.
And then Lady was gone.
The four would never fully know why they joined hands around her body. Or why Micky and Mike gasped in pain as Lady’s body dissolved into glowing powder which flowed into all four of them.
But the pain and burning had come, and when they dropped their hands, a quiet neigh from behind them drew their attention.
“The babies…” Peter moved to their sides. Gently he helped the white ones to their feet, pronouncing them “Adam and Eve”. Then he helped the roan one, calling him “Auburn”.
Adam and Eve looked around them with large baby eyes, then began to tentatively walk.
And four voices rose in shocked surprise when both babies touched first Davy –
Then Micky and Mike!
And were not harmed!
“That was what Lady… why she….” Micky trailed off in surprise.
“She gave us… purity…” Mike said slowly.
“I gotta sit down,” Micky said.
“You are sitting down,” Peter informed him.
“Oh. Yeah,” Micky said, looking down at himself.
“So… you said you knew where we needed to go,” Davy said. “Didn’t you, Peter?”
Peter nodded. “I do.” He took a deep breath. “She said we have to get to the island where the two worlds meet.”
“Two worlds? What’re you talking about?” Mike asked suspiciously.
“Well, it’s a point where… the two places converge. See, Lady wasn’t from this universe,” Peter said.
“Well, paint me blue and call me silly,” Micky said.
“Ooh, hey, I’ll get the paint!” Davy said, pretending he was going to get up.
“Sit down, man, and listen,” Mike said, yanking on the leg of Davy’s trousers to get him to sit down. Davy sat.
“She said it used to be called Avalon,” Peter said, “but it moves. It’s not close to England anymore. Right now, the meeting place between their world and ours is off the coast… and we have to take the babies there.”
Mike nodded. “We’ll rent a boat…”
“Big enough for three unicorns and four men?” Davy asked. “How are four broke musicians going to afford this?”
“We have to,” Mike said. “Someway…”
Continue On To Part Two