Welcome to Capricious by Julie Cox, a Texan tale of love and magic. NSFW.
A new chapter appears every Tuesday. This week is Chapter Twenty-Six. Listen to the audio version at Nobilis Erotica here!
Luke and Sally met August farther down the road, where they shared a shortened version of the confrontation at the bridge. August looked back toward the bridge with a curious expression almost like regret. Luke wondered if perhaps he wished he had been in on the action–or if he wished it had gone the other way. The sharp pang of doubt gnawed at him, though he had no solid reason to question August now.
They regrouped at Cormick’s house, a well manicured suburban home with a lot of white stone masonry on the front façade and red brick elsewhere. No weeds were tolerated in the small, sprinkler-fed lawn. A green mustache of cubed boxwood shrubs lined the front. The interior sported a flawless coat of soft beige eggshell paint, set off by bright white crown molding and wainscoting in the dining room. There were no stains on the white carpet, no scuffs on the gleaming hardwood floor. Luke was unsure whether it was alright to actually sit on the antique furniture.
The kitchen was the only messy room that they could see, so they congregated there. They found dishes in the sink, wrappers and measuring instruments on the counters, and Cormick in a blue T-shirt with a bit of flour on it. Something delicious and sweet was in the oven. He apologized for the mess and explained that they’d caught him “in a creative mood.”
Luke related their tale to Cormick and Orson, who was serendipitously already there when they arrived. Orson fished foreign beers out of the refrigerator and passed them out wordlessly. Sally hoisted herself up onto the counter and hunched glumly over hers. Luke hovered close to her, the near miss of earlier hanging between them.
Finally Cormick said, “There is a family of trolls in Fox Pass. Alan’s a cop. They come to the council meetings.”
“But are they bridge trolls?” Luke said. “They’re a pretty specific set.”
“I don’t know. It never occurred to me to ask. What’s the difference?”
“Sadly, I know all about them, because at least once a lifetime one of them comes trip-trapping along, determined to make a billy goat gruff out of me. Maybe it’s the horns. Bridge trolls are concerned with travel, with portals and pathways. They’re the guardians of those things and can get pretty ugly about them. It can be metaphysical, too–those who break the rules, cross from one kind of mental or social realm to another, the tricksters, they tend to attract the ire of the bridge trolls. They wouldn’t like satyrs even if we didn’t resemble goats, because we tend to switch genders from one life to another. We take unexpected partners, dare people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. We ask them to cross over–”
“That’s it,” August said with a sharp intake of breath.
“What’s it?” Luke said.
“The gateway,” Cormick and Orson said as one, the same revelatory light coming on in their eyes.
“Oh my God,” Sally said, pressing her hands to her mouth as her eyes flew wide.
“Will someone please fill me in on what the whole room has realized?” Luke said with a snort.
Orson put a hand on Luke’s shoulder. “The magical gateway, Luke–the reason we’re all hanging out in West Texas, and why so many of us are born here? The big arch of stone near the river. They’re trying to get rid of you because they’re afraid you’re going to call something over. It’s the biggest bridge the trolls could find to guard, and they don’t want you trip-trapping over it.”
“So they called over the creature that specifically targets goats,” Sally said. “The chupacabras.”
“And when that failed, they did their homework on you personally and recruited Mae to cripple you magically,” Orson added. “She’s a hellfire bitch, but she’s not normally so mustache-twirling evil. My bet is she’s been influenced, maybe even magically poisoned.”
Luke leaned against the counter with a deep grumbling breath and swigged his beer. “Son of a bitch. They tried to do it all legit like, too–last year somebody made me an offer on my land. Went through a real estate agent so I didn’t ever know who it was. Musta been them.”
“Why didn’t you take it?” Sally asked.
Luke looked over at her with a meaningful smile. “There wasn’t another spot like that one in Fox Pass, and I had this pretty girl I liked, wanted to stick nearby to see if she’d come round.” She returned his smile.
“At last we know what we’re dealing with,” August said. “The council in New York will be pleased.” There was a bitter note in his voice that piqued Luke’s interest.
“The council can bite my hairy ass,” Luke said.
“Noted. So how do we fight them?” August said.
“Tricky,” Orson said, tapping his fingers against his mouth. “They’re naturally camouflaged. Lose sight of them for a moment and they freeze–look just like a boulder or a dead tree or a mound of earth dotted with little white flowers. Then all of a sudden, that boulder is biting your leg off. Nasty creatures, not much for understanding or forgiveness.”
“So weird,” Luke said, “that they didn’t take me alone, as many times as I’ve been up and down the mountain. It sure was lucky you were with me, Sal.”
“Perhaps not lucky at all,” Cormick said. “Maybe they were waiting for when you had a passenger, so they could use her escape as a negotiating chip.”
“Bastards,” Orson said. “Though not bad planning on their part. For all I know you’re a winged mouse, Sal.”
Sally shrugged. “No use keeping it secret anymore, now that Luke knows. I’m a thunderbird.”
“Wow,” Orson said as Cormick jumped back and said, “Jesus!”
“That explains a few things,” August muttered.
“Back to the matter at hand,” Sally said. “How do we fight them, and how do we know if Alan and his family are the bridge trolls we’re looking for?”
“Was that a Star Wars reference?” Luke asked.
She grinned. “Course it was.”
“I love you.”
“Course you do.”
Orson cleared his throat. “As to whether Alan and co. are bridge trolls… well, they don’t look any different from other trolls. You gotta see them in action to know the difference. Or give them some kind of truth serum or something.”
“Coyote had to speak the truth if asked four times,” Sally mused.
“Yeah, but he became the werecoyotes, as far as we can tell. And we don’t entreat with the shapeshifters,” Cormick said with a shudder.
“Why is that?” August asked. “I’ve never even met a shapeshifter, but their magic doesn’t seem all that different from ours. I mean, we almost shapeshift ourselves, choosing either our mortal or immortal selves to manifest.”
“Why don’t you ask your council buddies?” Orson said, clearly not yet having forgiven August for his northern heritage.
“Because they don’t like their agents asking too many questions. It’s easier to ask you guys.”
Cormick raised an eyebrow. “And if we report to them that you asked a lot of questions?”
August snorted. “I’m not sure which is more likely–you reporting to the council, or them believing you over me.”
Cormick sighed. “That’s fair. The truth about the shapeshifters is, they’re just dangerous, the pack animals more than others. They don’t act entirely human; they’re unpredictable.”
“The same can be said of us,” Sally observed.
“They’re more animalistic,” Cormick said. “Trust me on this. I’ve dealt with the coyotes, and they are not a fun bunch to be around. You start feeling like a lobster in a seafood tank. There is a pack right on the other side of the border, in Mexico. You feel free to go find them if you ever want to find out for yourself just how different the shapeshifters are.”
August shrugged. “Just curious. Now, about the bridge trolls–my guess is, we need to bait them into showing themselves. Perhaps by having Luke do something they’d hate? Like go through the gateway to the other realms?”
Luke shifted his weight uneasily. “It’s not quite so simple as going gallivanting over the edge. I’ve never been through a gateway like that one, not in this life or any other. The fae realms, the land of the dead, the skylands, the underworlds, a thousand and one spirit realms, they’re all there waiting on the other side. To say nothing of the lands of the Hindu gods, the East Asian gods, the secret gardens guarded by the cherubim, and the many levels of Hell. I keep my cloven feet planted firmly on this side of things for a reason. The closest I been is over the rainbow bridge of Haiti, several lifetimes back, and that is one trip I would dearly love to forget.”
“You have to know where you’re going,” Orson said. “To get to one particular land, you must have been there before.”
“I’ve been to a lot of lands before, actually,” August said, “in the service of the council.”
“Yeah, but you’re a ghost,” Luke said. “No one cares what borders you cross. Not gonna do us any good to send you.”
“I’m not suggesting myself,” August said with an enigmatic smile. “I’m suggesting my horse.”
* * *
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About the author: Julie Cox is the author of Chasing Tail and numerous short stories in Circlet Press erotica anthologies. She lives in Texas with her husband, children, and ever-expanding menagerie of animals on their farm. She runs a small online yarn business and teaches yarn spinning. She has numerous stories published with Circlet Press and elsewhere.
Welcome to Fox Pass, Texas, a small community where the mythical creatures aren’t so mythical after all. Satyr Luke’s comfortable routine is thrown into disarray when he becomes the target of enemies who won’t hesitate to hurt his friends to get to him. Struggling to save his town—and to sort out his feelings for his friend Sally—Luke faces the adventure of a lifetime in Julie Cox’s Capricious.
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