Johnny Mads had wanted to spend some time with Queenie Claret ever since a dream, that woke him gasping and covered in sweat, informed him that there was a new man in his house.
Queenie was almost two years older than he was, and had given exactly zero signs that suggested she knew Johnny existed. Then she showed up at his grandfather’s funeral, five months ago, and had never left.
She brought her college-girl smile to his high school graduation, he could look nowhere without glimpsing at her red hair, and… “Does your grandmother really have to park in front of my shop the entire time you’re here? It’s disturbing, Queenie.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
He kept forgetting that Queenie’s new interest in him had come with a name change. “Sorry, Rose. It’s just that whenever I call you by that name, my brain starts thinking that I’m talking to your grandmother.” He sighed. “Who, by the way, just got out of the car and is staring right at us through the window.”
“There aren’t any windows on the back, are there?” Her hand was under the table, running fingers up and down his thigh.
His eighteen-year-old body responded accordingly. “You know I can’t,” he said, reminding himself not to hyperventilate. But it was so hard. “See?” He pointed at the purple words painted over the door that led to the restricted area of the coffee shop. “Only Mads Outback,” he read aloud.
Queenie grinned as her hand moved higher on his thigh.
Johnny closed his eyes and groaned.
The sting of sharp claws replaced Queenie’s caresses. Johnny jumped out of his chair, hands covering his front.
Queenie was also on her feet, glaring back and forth between the bloody scratches on her hand and Phoebe—the Mads family cat.
“You need to get rid of that beast. If it makes me bleed one more time, I will make sure it knows what it feels like.” Queenie squinted towards the cat, as if taking a closer look. “What magic do you use to make your cat wear a hat?”
“No one can make Phoebe do anything she doesn’t want. Try taking her top hat and you’ll find yourself searching for at least one of your eyeballs.”
Queenie shook her head. “You think it’s a good idea to keep such a violent cat around your customers?”
“Phoebe isn’t violent. She’s—”
“You just said she would scratch someone’s eyes out for a hat.”
“She’s protective of what’s hers,” Johnny said. “Grandfather John had that top had handmade to fit Phoebe. Now that he’s gone, we only have what he left for us. I would probably eye gouge anyone who tried to take what’s mine from me.”
Johnny was no longer smiling. And the grin had left Queenie’s face. They were just standing with a table between them, staring at each other.
“Meow, meow,” said the cat, scratching at the door the led to the back.
“It seems Phoebe thinks I should take you outback, Rose.” He had to think about it, but he was able to say the name that wasn’t truly hers.
“Almost six months of me asking and you saying no. But you’ll show me your family’s secrets because a cat meows that you should?” She laughed.
“Mads and the Shifty Cat,” Johnny said the name of his shop in a singsong voice. “A cat of Phoebe’s blood will always own half of this place. What she says goes.”
“Meow!” Phoebe was shrieking and pushing the door with her head.
“Follow us,” Johnny said, joining Phoebe and opening the door for Queenie.
Queenie stood in the middle of the small room, turning around slowly… her eyes on everything. She lingered on a few of Grandfather John’s favorite displays: AlmaMia and The Bloody Bride Take Cat Girl and a Couple of Skulls for Coffee received a glance; Twink, May, Mazie and the Maddest Crone were scrutinized for some time; there was even a muffled shriek when Queenie got to Mabel the Bloodshot, but there was no real excitement. If anything, she looked disappointed.
“I was expecting…” Queenie shook her head. “I don’t know, I… just thought there would be more.”
“More what?” Johnny said from behind his desk, where he watched Phoebe circle the top hat sculpture where he kept his painting brushes.
“Where are the enchanted coffee carafes and the animal slaves that make all your hats?”
“What are you talking about? The Mads craft coffees and hats the same way your family crafts cakes and teas.” Johnny stood up and walked to stand in front of his desk.
“We have enchanted teapots forever full of the best teas.” Queenie began to twirl and her voice got louder. “Our magic ovens bake cookies and cakes as soon as our customers spew their orders. We can do anything with tea and cakes because we have…” Her voice trailed off, and her eyes fell on the hat sculpture. She began to laugh. “You still craft? You truly craft your coffees and hats, one by one, by hand.”
“We are Story Crafters.” Johnny grabbed two brushes out of the hat, and began to paint a broad silvery line in the air, between Queenie and him. “If we change so much that we forget ourselves, our stories will stop being. People and worlds will forget who and what they are.”
“Don’t be daft, John. If we absorb the objects that filter a crafter’s ability, then we can wield that power with our minds. We can absorb energy from everything around us. Imagine, J—”
“No, Queenie.” He used the brush with the thinnest tip to sharpen the edges and tip of his drawing, and to add two letters to the hilt. The M was completed. But Queenie had pulled a dagger out of her purse, and rushed for Johnny before he could craft the O.
Phoebe leapt in front of Johnny, changed from cat to March O’Hare in midair, grabbed the sword Johnnie crafted, and ran it through Queenie Claret’s left shoulder.
“Drop the skin,” March said to Queenie, forcing the other girl against the wall. With a quick twist of her blade, March added, “Show your pretty greedy tricky face, or I’ll peel you off with my teeth… after scratching your eyes out. Eye gouging doesn’t kill, when done slowly and with lots and lots of care, did you know that?”
“Stop it, March,” Johnny said. Just behead the Scout. Send its essence back to its maker.”
“Show him, fabler, or I’ll rip your shoulder off.”
“What is—” Johnny lost the rest of his question, as he watched the skin charm melt and drip to the floor. There was lighter skin covering Queenie’s impaled shoulder, stretched over her neck, and shaping the feature of her true face. “Mrs. Rose?” He barely heard or believed his words. “What you are trying to do is madness? If you kill me, you…”
“She doesn’t care, Johnny.” March pushed Rose out of the small room, through the coffee shop, and into the deserted sidewalk. “That explains a lot,” she said, pointing at Queenie Claret, who was leaning against her grandmother’s car, holding her left shoulder.
“I don’t understand,” Johnny said,
“Of course you don’t get it. You were so traumatized after being thigh-molested, by a woman who could be your grandmother, that you didn’t hear her when she called you by your grandfather’s name.” March pushed Rose towards her granddaughter, walked back into the shop, closed the front door, and grinned. “We need to pick and split, Johnny Mads.”
They ran into the small room, and grabbed the essentials plus anything that could be contained inside a shopping cart, and drove away in their purple Volkswagen Microbus.
“Where are we taking our coffees and hats, Johnny Mads?” March kept her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road.
“Head east, towards New York; Angeles Thorn owes my grandfather a favor. I heard she’s staying at Wildwoods with Kassia Van Dyke.”
March nodded, and then said, “Sorry she wasn’t the Queenie you dreamed off.”
“I’m not sorry at all,” Johnny told her. “In the dream I had, Queenie ripped off my crotch.”
“Ouch,” March O’Hare said.
“Yeah,” said Johnny Mads.
written for Debi’s May Mad Hatter Day Celebration 2015!
collaged images, from left to right, starting at the top: “Phoebe in a Top Hat”, by Little Gothic Horrors; “Hat”, by Touched of the Goddess; “Twink, May, Mazie and the Maddest Crone”, by Debi Livsey; “Mabel”, by Gina Morley
then, below, a different kind of assortment (I took the photo, but in it, from right to left): “The Bloody Bride”, by Gina Morley; “AlmaMia Cienfuegos”, by Rhissanna; “Cat Girl”, by SunshineShelle; and the wee skeletal couple sculpture, is my Handfasting cake topper, crafted by Mendez and Hernandez, in Mexico