Art Pact 59

I tried to get it to stand still, but the creature was restless and began to move every few minutes, pacing nervously around the room and setting numerous small fires which I had to extinguish myself, hurrying around from behind my desk with a heavy plastic folder to beat at the flames.

"Sorry!" it growled, frowning. The whole thing was a vicious circle, each new set of blazes making it more and more anxious, and the anxiety making it less and less able to be still and therefore more and more likely to set further fires in the waiting room. I tried to re-organise around it - the first thing I did was move the dry flowers under my desk, then gather up all the magazines from the coffee table - but I was pretty much tied to the phone by the constant ringing of Mrs. Danvers enquiring after the fate of "Little Kimmy". No matter how many times I assured her that I would contact her directly after the surgery was finished, she still insisted on ringing every few minutes, convinced that no news was bad news and no new news for sixty seconds meant the /worst/ news.

"She's likely to be quite a while," I pointed out to the flame creature.

"I'll wait."

"Don't you think you should see a..." I trailed off, not quite sure what to suggest. It was the first creature to come into Roxy's surgery that could talk. I was sure that meant something. In the everyday world it was easy to divide these things up: if you were a person - that is to say, if you were a human person - you went to a doctor. If you were an animal - a non-human animal - you went to a vet. Was that how it worked with the monsters too? You couldn't really divide them up on species lines, because there were so many different types. But I felt that a creature that could speak wasn't just a creature, it was a person. So this was a fire-person, and people didn't come to a vet, they went to a doctor.

Of course, I had no idea if there was such a thing as a monster doctor. Roxy had never mentioned such a person, but on the other hand the list of things Roxy hadn't mentioned was long enough that I'd have needed two other hands to make that point.

"Couldn't you go to a doctor?" I asked timidly. "A mon-uh... a fire doctor?" The creature looked at me, its flaming eyes wide open in a perfect image of shock. I wasn't sure whether I'd offended it or terrified it, but I moved my chair back a little way and held my hands up in apology. "Sorry, I didn't mean to..." I tailed off, because although I knew I had to apologise for something, I wasn't sure exactly what.

"I can't go to a doctor," the creature said. Ah, so there are such things! "He'd have to report my visit. I can't be on a file somewhere, do you understand?"

Not really.

"Yeah, sure."

"They'll find me," it said. "Then they'll lock me away, or worse - they'll offer me a job."

It scratched the back of its head, the flaming hair tousling and throwing off a shower of sparks. It apologised again as I leapt around from the reception desk and began to put out the small blaze where the flaming dandruff had set fire to the carpet.

"Hold on," I told it. "I've got an idea."

Roxy and Vanity glared at me as I entered the surgery. I gestured to the wall and edged around the room. Kimmy was out cold on the huge operating table, its tail lying across the floor. I stepped gingerly over the huge stinger, but to my great relief it did not suddenly spring to life and stab me in the groin.

On the far side of the room was the fire extinguisher and blanket that Roxy had shown me on my first day. I pulled it out of its cylindrical container on the wall, folded it up again, and crept back past Kimmy's deadly tail.

"Something I should be worried about?" Roxy asked.

"No no, all under control."

"It's just, I don't know whether I put this in your duties and responsibilities sheet, but if my surgery is on fire, that's probably something you're responsible for telling me."

"All under control," I repeated.

"If you say so," she muttered, turning back to the chimera's innards. "Hold that suction steady, Vanity."

Back in the waiting room I spread the fire-sheet out on the floor. It was bigger than the normal ones (I had one in my kitchen, my landlord's one concession to fire safety), square and about as wide as my spread arms. I shifted the coffee table to one wall and laid it down for the creature to stand on.

"There you go," I said.

"Thanks," muttered the creature. It looked even more forlorn stuck in the middle of the grey fire-retardant square, and I got it to step off again and arrange the cloth so that it was draped over one of the sturdier wooden chairs (I'd judged the plastic ones too likely to melt, even with the fire blanket's protection).

"There, why don't you have a seat. Take the weight off your feet."

It gave me a strange look, and sat down gingerly.

"Thanks," it said again, but this time I could tell that it actually meant it.

"You're very welcome." I sat down again myself, and realised that I was also more relaxed now that I didn't have someone looming over me. I answered the phone again (Mrs Danvers, of course, convinced that my absence from the front desk had been due to the sudden demise of her pet), then when I had dealt with that wheeled my chair around to the other side of the desk so that I was sitting opposite the fire creature.

"I'm Joseph, by the way," I introduced myself, sticking my hand out.

"PoŇľar," it said. It held its own hand out, but kept it a few centimetres from my palm. Even from there I could feel the searing heat.

"Oh," I said. "Right. Anyway, pleased to meet you."


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