Three Women In A Stew (To Say Nothing Of The Guinea Pig)

It may have been late October, with summer gone and autumn looming, but someone had forgotten to tell that to the weather. It was hot, and getting hotter as the day went on, without any breezes and fog from the not too distant Pacific Ocean rolling in. Throughout the town, people pulled out every trick they had used back in August to stay cool, some of which actually worked.

The heat gave the afternoon a hint of lethargy, but newish roommates Michiko Koyama, the Monkey Queen, and college sophomore and geek girl Beth McGill had been too busy expecting company to be lazy. They had already cleaned up, but Michiko kept poking around, finding little specks of dust or fluff that she had missed the first three times she had checked, humming Monkees songs to herself. Beth had taken refuge on the living room couch, where she was staying out of Michiko’s way as she re-re-redusted the bookshelves.

Beth was reading Jerome K. Jerome on her tablet, with Connie Willis cued up for later. She found herself nodding off a little, not just from the heat but also the noise of their only fan, which was pointed at Gregor’s cage and running full blast. This was in part because furry creatures like the guinea pig Gregor had been reincarnated as didn’t take well to heat, and mostly to keep Beth and Michiko from having to hear Gregor complaining about that fact.

Beth was wondering if she should just give up and stick her head in the freezer when there was a knock on the apartment door. “I’ll get it!” Michiko shouted.

“You had better,” Beth said. “I’m starting to stick to this couch.”

Michiko giggled as she ran to the front door. She glanced through the peephole and flung the door open. “Hiiii!” she said.

“Good afternoon,” the curly-haired blonde said as she stepped inside. “You still need to get that front door fixed.”

“Mrs. Culbertson said she’ll get it done next week,” Michiko said, closing the door.

The blonde nodded and snapped her fingers. The clothes she had been wearing, green workout fatigues, vanished, replaced by a green calf-high sundress with gold threads woven in. Her ears now came to sharp points. “Good afternoon, Beth,” Robyn said with a slight smile.

“Hey.” Beth smiled back as she set her tablet aside. “Hot enough for you?”

“I’d say so at this point.” Robyn shook her head. “At least on Faerie, the weather knows this is the season to cool down.” Robyn was a member of the Faerie Forest Guard, an elite division tasked with policing and protecting all the lands of Faerie. She was using some of her saved-up vacation time to visit Earth and her godfather, Puck the faerie Emigre.

“I’d ask what the plan is,” Beth said, “but it’s too hot.”

“We could use a way to cool down,” the faerie said.

“Cool down…” Beth’s eyes lit up. “I’ve got it! Ice cream!”

“Pardon?” Robyn blinked.

“They don’t have ice cream on Faerie?”

“I don’t think so…”

“How do you guys get by there without ice cream and pizza?” Beth grinned. “You make ice cream by blending sugar and cream, adding flavorings and fruit or lots and lots of chocolate, and freezing it.”

“That does sound good,” Robyn said with a slight smile.

“And Ducky’s Ice Cream Parlor is just one block over! Let’s go!” Beth peeled herself off the couch and stood up.

“Uh-uh.”

Beth glanced over at Michiko, who was standing in their small kitchen. “You’re not lactose intolerant,” Beth said.

“It’s not that,” Michiko said to her roommate. “But all those calories! All that sugar! Ice cream is bad for you!”

Beth gaped at Michiko. “Of course it’s bad for you! That’s the point!”

“You shouldn’t have any! We need to get you eating better!”

Beth folded her arms. “You’re going to give out boxes of raisins for Halloween, aren’t you?”

“I like raisins,” Michiko said meekly.

Robyn cleared her throat. “Might you have a suggestion, Michiko?”

“Yep!” Michiko hurried to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and dug inside.

“We won’t fit in there,” Robyn said.

“Not that!” Michiko closed the door and straightened up, brandishing a large can. “I’ve got pineapple!”

“That, I’ve heard of,” Robyn said.

“And it’s been in the fridge all week!” Michiko grinned as she set the can on the kitchen counter. “It’s cold and sweet and good for you and yummy!”

“Okay,” Beth said, trying not to smile. “You win. This time.”

“I just need to get the can open!” Michiko grabbed the pull tab on the top of the can and yanked it.

The tab broke in half.

Michiko stared at the piece of the tab in her hand, then at the pineapple can. It was a clean break; there was no hole or gap in the seam, just the stub of the tab. “Oops,” she said softly.

“Don’t know your own strength?” Beth grinned. “What now?”

“Can opener!” Michiko pulled one from a drawer in the kitchen cabinet. She lined it up on the edge and pressed down.

The can opener broke in half.

Michiko’s jaw dropped as she gaped at the broken opener. “Michiko—” Beth started to say.

“I’m sorry! I’ll buy a new one!” Michiko started to blush.

“Michiko—”

“I’ve got an old one here!” Michiko threw open a drawer and started digging through it.

“Michiko!” Beth said loudly.

“What?” Michiko looked over at her roommate.

“My turn.”

“Huh?”

“Watch.” Beth jumped up from the couch and ran to her bedroom. A moment later, she came back into the living room, holding up a skeleton key wrapped in brass wire. “This’ll do it!” she said.

“Mec’s key!” Michiko grinned.

“Do what?” Robyn asked.

“Get this can open.” Beth tapped the gremlin-crafted gadget against her palm. “It opens and closes doors, and I even tested it on a soft drink can the other day.”

“You should have put the can in the sink first!” Michiko said.

“Don’t remind me.” Beth shook her head. “Anyway, it’ll work on this.”

Beth squeezed past Michiko into the small kitchen. She sized up the pineapple can, then softly tapped the lid by the pull tab stub with the key.

Nothing happened.

Beth stared at the can. “That was not what I expected,” she said slowly.

“Maybe the key needs to be recharged?” Michiko said.

Beth reached over and tapped the handle to the freezer with her key. The freezer door popped open. “Nope,” she said. “It should work if I try a different spot.”

Beth tapped the lid again, on the opposite side from the stub of the pull tab. The lid stayed shut. “Come on,” she muttered as she tapped several spots along the rim, with no effect.

“Um, Beth, maybe—” Michiko said.

“Work, you stupid key!” Beth snapped. She tapped every spot on the lid and along the rim over and over again, harder and harder, until she sounded like a mechanical woodpecker drilling into an aluminum Christmas tree. The lid did not open.

Beth stopped tapping, stared at the can and took a deep breath. She launched into a string of curses that would have been the envy of a ship loaded with hungover sailors. Michiko turned beet-red, and Robyn watched with shock and awe. “My stars,” the faerie finally said as Beth wrapped up her tirade.

Beth nodded and smiled abashedly. “I haven’t cursed like that since that guy cut in front of me to get Sylvester McCoy’s autograph.”

“Who’s Sylvester McCoy?”

“Later. But what is the deal with this can?”

Michiko examined the can. “Good question. Maybe I jammed the lid trying to open it?”

“Perhaps.” Robyn joined Michiko and Beth in the kitchen. “Let me try to pry it open.”

“I doubt that’ll work,” Beth said. “I get the feeling that thing eats butter knives.”

“This…” Robyn held up a dagger. “Is not just used for marmalade, my friend.”

Beth raised an eyebrow. “Where do you keep that?”

“Trade secret.” Robyn smiled. “But it’s dwarven-forged, of the finest mountain steel, and enchanted several times over. It’s come in handy more than once.”

The faerie slipped the tip of the dagger underneath the pull tab’s stub. She held the can steady with one hand. She pushed the dagger upwards.

The tip of the dagger snapped off. It slid off the can and fell to the kitchen floor.

Robyn stared at her knife as if it had asked her to dance. “My dagger,” she whimpered.

Michiko pushed past Beth and a shellshocked Robyn and ran into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. When she came out a minute later, she was wearing her Monkey Queen “costume”, as Beth called it, her yellow karate jacket over her black t-shirt and leggings, with the red pillbox hat and long, flowing scarf. “That can is going to open!” Michiko said.

“Isn’t this overkill?” Robyn said.

“I like it.” Beth grinned. “It’s kind of like Clark Kent going into a phone booth…you don’t get that reference, do you?”

“I’m still working on Sylvester McCoy.”

Michiko ignored them both as she strode into the kitchen and grabbed the pineapple can. She carried it into the living room and set it on the floor. Then, she reached out with her right hand. A wooden staff with gold tips floated out of Michiko’s bedroom and settled gently into her hand.

Beth had seen Michiko’s staff in action before. It could grow fifty feet high or shrink to the size of a pencil, and most importantly, it could parry any weapon, breaking the weakest ones, and not even be scratched. Still, Beth wondered what would happen; it seemed to her to be another example of unstoppable force versus immovable object.

Michiko glared at the can as she lifted her staff. “Is it safe here?” Robyn murmured as she and Beth watched from the kitchen.

“I’m more worried about our downstairs neighbors,” Beth said. “And my cleaning deposit.”

Michiko gritted her teeth and pointed her staff at the pineapple can. She brought the tip down with all her strength on the lid.

The staff bounced off the lid and snapped back, pulling Michiko with it. She tumbled down, hitting the floor with a thud, her staff dropping next to her.

“Michiko!” Beth shouted, running into the living room and kneeling next to her roommate. “Michiko, are you okay?”

“‘Here we come,'” Michiko mumbled dazedly, “‘walking down the street…'”

Robyn walked into the living room and picked up the can. There was a small dent in the lid, but it was still sealed tight. “Every Court in Faerie,” she said, “would pay dearly—”

She stopped when she heard the laughter. Gregor, who had been watching from his cage, was beside himself, pounding his bedding with his forepaws. “What a sight!” he sputtered. “The ‘mighty’ Monkey Queen, laid low by a mere can of pineapples! This is the funniest…”

His voice and laughter trailed off when he realized that three angry, overheated women were glaring at him. Robyn slammed the can on the end table next to Gregor’s cage. Michiko opened the cage and, none too gently, yanked Gregor out. “Your turn,” Beth snapped.

“But—”

“You’re always talking about how mighty a sorcerer you are,” Robyn said.

“Time to show us!” Michiko set Gregor on the table next to the pineapple can.

The guinea pig glanced at the can, then over his shoulder at the women. “I am a bit out of practice,” he said, “and—”

“Gregor?” Beth folded her arms and glared at him. “Do you remember what I said about the bungee cord and the hungry cats?”

Gregor gulped and nodded. He faced the can and examined it carefully, sniffing around the rim, stretching up to see the lid. He closed his eyes briefly, muttering to himself. “I suspect that the enchantment that gremlin built into his key wasn’t strong enough,” he finally said. “Let’s try powerful magic.”

He stood with the can between him and the women and flexed his forepaws. As they started to glow, he reached up and rested them on the can’s lid. He chanted, in words that sounded half-Latin and half-Cyrillic. The glow grew brighter, stronger.

“Cover your eyes!” Michiko shouted. She and Robyn threw their hands over their faces. Beth, a second slower, shielded her eyes with her forearm.

As she did, the room filled with white light.

Beth blinked the glare out and stared in shock. The spell had backfired; the label had been burnt off, but the can was still intact. The fan had blown the black soot back, covering Gregor, the table, and the floor and walls behind them. “Ouch,” Gregor said.

“I’m surprised,” Beth said as she looked around, “but at the same time—”

“Noooo!” Michiko shouted. “Look at this mess!”

“I think it’ll come out,” Gregor said faintly.

“Beth and I spent all morning cleaning the living room!” Michiko was beet red. “That does it!”

“Michiko—” Beth started to say.

“Come on!” Michiko grabbed her staff with one hand and the recalcitrant can with the other and stormed out of the apartment. Robyn followed, activating her seeming, and Beth brought up the rear, carrying a dizzy Gregor.

Michiko and the others marched up to the roof. It was empty except for them, the day being too hot for trying to cool off on the tar covering. Michiko handed Robyn the can and crouched slightly, holding her staff at one end with both hands. Michiko nodded, and Robyn nervously tossed the can towards her and dove out of the way.

The Monkey Queen swung her staff and hit the can. It shot in the air, arcing upwards, shining brightly as it streaked into the distance. Beth found herself wondering if it would be the first can of pineapples ever to achieve escape velocity.

Robyn stared at the can as it flew out of sight. “So what now?” she said.

“Ice cream?” Beth said quietly.

“Ice cream!” Michiko grinned.

They returned downstairs; Michiko changed back to street clothes, and Gregor was returned to his cage. As they headed out, Robyn asked, “So, ice cream comes in different flavors?”

“Yep!” Michiko said. “And they’ll let you sample a few, too!”

“What are you getting?”

“Strawberry!” Michiko grinned. “What about you, Beth?”

“Well…” Beth thought it over. “I think I’ll have mint chocolate chunk, peanut butter caramel fudge, and chocolate chip brownie decadence.”

Michiko’s jaw dropped. “Three scoops?”

“Yeah. And you were mean to me, so you don’t get to have any bites.”

“Awww.” Michiko pouted.

“Kidding!” Beth said with a grin of her own. Michiko giggled.

“Do I get any bites too?” Robyn smiled wryly.

“There won’t be any left for me at this rate,” Beth said with a sigh as they reached Ducky’s.

There was a line that stretched outside the parlor, but Beth saw that one of the cashiers, wearing a red apron with a chubby yellow duck on the front, was walking along the line. She was carrying a large container and a handful of plastic tasting spoons. “Free samples!” she said. “Courtesy of Ducky’s, the ice cream you’ll go quackers over!”

“Quackers?” Robyn blinked.

“Skip it.” Beth grinned as the cashier approached them, scooping spoonfuls of ice cream.

“Yummy!” Michiko said with a big smile as the cashier handed tasting spoons to her and the others.

“So what flavor is this?” Beth asked as Michiko stuck her spoon in her mouth and Robyn lifted hers cautiously.

“Pineapple sherbet,” the cashier said.

It took a long time for Michiko, Robyn and Beth to stop laughing.

 

 

The management would like to apologize to all fans of Jerome K. Jerome, and we hope he’ll stop spinning in his grave someday. We also want to thank Connie Willis, whose novel To Say Nothing Of The Dog led us to Jerome’s work.

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