Disclaimer: Tale Spin is copyright Disney. Borrowed without permission for non profit purposes. This story not to be reposted without the express permission of the High Flight Crew, contact info at: http://fly.to/highflight
As they disembarked from the plane, walking down the metal stairs to the runway, they found themselves greeted by a crowd of reporters, who avidly followed each archaeologist’s career. Suddenly, they were bombarded with questions. Flashbulbs popped in their faces.
Katy announced triumphantly, “We present to you… the Lost Stone of Yura.”
“Over here, Miss Dodd! How about a little cheesecake for the camera?”
“Miss Johnson, there are rumors flying that you single-handedly tried to save the others from the legendary Big Mouth creature and got injured. Is this true?”
“Professor O’Bowens, is it true that you started a bar room brawl in a Mexicasa tavern?”
“Miss Foxworthy, is it true that you left Aridia to meet eligible bachelors in Mexicasan taverns?”
“Who’s the kid? Are you secretly married, Miss Johnson?”
“You call her Doctor Johnson!”
Seeing Myra’s bruise, one reporter called out, “How’s the other guy, Miss Foxworthy?”
Myra grinned and cracked her knuckles. “No comment!”
Then she glanced at her watch and said to her companions, “We'd better get going, we have to get Arizona to her temporary quarters.”
is where?” Arizona demanded peevishly. The wheelchair and her enforced
immobility had reduced her to mere churlishness.
“You'll see…” Myra said gaily, pushing the wheelchair away from the reporters. In a few minutes, the crowd was behind them and O'Bowens was hailing a taxi.
* * *
“I’ll get you for this!” Arizona yelled as Myra pushed her wheelchair into Shere Khan’s office, trailed by Katy, O’Bowens, and Li’l Bit. “All of you. You won’t know when. You won’t know how. But I’ll get you.”
The tycoon rose smoothly from his luxurious chair and walked around the desk. His impassive face held a hint of amusement as he folded her arms and looked down at her. “Arizona Johnson, how do you get yourself into these situations?”
“We’d better get going,” Katy said. “I know Arizona will be in good hands here,” she added with a smirk.
Myra let go of the handles of the wheelchair, leaned over and patted the fuming tigress’ shoulder. “Bye, Ari. Get well soon.”
The three archaeologists departed, leaving Arizona, Li’l Bit, and Shere Khan alone.
“I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” Shere said graciously. “I took the liberty of having a room decorated for each of you. If there’s anything not to your taste, simply let the butler know. The kitchen is well-stocked, and I have stepped up security two hundred percent so you needn’t worry on that account.”
“The jewel,” Arizona said abruptly. “What about the jewel?”
“In my private collection, temporarily --- also one of the most well-guarded collections in Cape Suzette. If so much as a fly stirs in that room, it will trigger the alarm system and summon a dozen guards.”
“Good.” Arizona shifted uncomfortably in the wheel chair, her leg immobilized, stuck straight out in front of her on a small metal brace. “And you don’t need to look so smug, Shere. Accidents happen.”
Meanwhile, Li’l walked about the vast office, exploring. She paused before the floor to ceiling window behind Shere Khan’s desk and looked out at the view. Cape Suzette’s towers rose majestically, and the waters of the bay glimmered in the afternoon sunlight.
Li’l curiously wandered towards the garden. One of the flytraps leaned down to sniff at the small kitten. It licked its lips, displaying sharp, glistening fangs.
As it drew back to strike, Shere took one swift step sideways and snatched Li’l out of the way just in time. The jaws snapped shut on empty air. Sulkily, the flytrap withdrew.
Shere released the kitten, who was momentarily shaken. “I suggest that you avoid the garden during your stay here,” the tiger said. He cleared his throat. “Now then… allow me to show you to your rooms.”
* * *
Shere Khan’s sprawling condominium took up the entire top floor of the office building that served as his corporate headquarters. It commanded a magnificent view of the city, surrounded by a sun-splashed patio. The roof and exterior sported the kind of soaring art deco accents that suggested smooth power and grace. Miss Dulcet, his cheetah housekeeper and personal aide, ran the household with an air of cool precision --- and was as formidable as his secretary, Mrs. Snarly. Not a dish out of place, not a rug corner left crinkled, not a door left carelessly open.
The elegant apartment had accommodated everything from titans of industry to heads of state with hardly a ripple. But then, it had never had anyone like Li’l Bit within its walls.
In the spacious, light-filled bedroom was a large pink stuffed elephant with a big red bow tied around its neck. Next to it was a rocking horse whose mane was of real hair. Sweet faced, curly-haired dolls in frilly dresses were tucked in what empty space there was. Tea sets of real china, baby carriages, even a small playhouse cluttered the vast room. A giant lollipop leaned against an overstuffed child-sized armchair. Like a centerpiece, a canopy bed with ruffled skirts sat in the center of the room. And standing on the bed, arms folded, ears tucked back, expression mutinous, was Li’l.
“If there is anything else that you require,” the tiger said, “you have only to speak to Miss Dulcet and she will see to it.” He sounded as if he were courting a potential client in a meeting.
Li’l glowered at him.
“You… like the toys, I presume,” Shere said. With anyone else it might have sounded uncertain, but he spoke smoothly and confidently, as if this were a given.
Li’l unfolded her arms and ticked off the list on her fingers. “Stupid dolls. Stupid room. Stupid teacups. I hate it here.”
“Any child would give their eyes to be in your shoes right now. These are the most expensive, very best toys. I had them shipped from the finest stores in Usland.”
Shrugging, Li’l flopped down onto the bed, landing on her stomach with her face away from the door, and Shere. The canopy heaved once.
“Go away,” came the small voice, angry and muffled.
There was a low chuckle behind him. Shere turned rather quickly to see Arizona standing in the doorway, watching them.
“So, Shere,” Arizona teased, “is this how you’d treat your own daughter? Spoil her rotten?”
He met her gaze levelly. “Indeed,” he said. His eyes locked with hers before she could look elsewhere and escape. “Any daughter of mine,” he added, “would have only the best of everything. That’s hardly spoiling.”
Arizona stood still a moment. Something passed between them. Then she tilted back her chin and gave a little laugh. “Well, Li’l won’t fall for it, and neither will I. Bribery is typical of you, Shere.”
She turned away, swinging her left crutch nonchalantly. But she miscalculated how little weight she could put on her injured foot. The tigress dropped the crutch, overbalanced and began to fall.
Lighting-quick, Shere was at her side, his hands taking her shoulders so she fell against him.
He held onto her for heartbeats. Abruptly, Arizona shoved herself out of his grasp. Leaning on the doorframe, she reached down for her dropped crutch. With a last glare at him, she hobbled away.
Shere watched her go, until a prickling between his shoulder blades made him turn around.
Li’l Bit was sitting up, cross-legged and staring with open-eyed curiosity, as if she were at a Saturday afternoon picture show.
Clearing his throat, Shere adjusted his tie
and made a speedy retreat.
A firm knock sounded outside Arizona's door. "Go away," she snarled.
The door swung open, revealing Shere Khan. "Am I intruding?"
"Yes," she told him, and deliberately turned back to her book, even though she had been unable to concentrate on it for hours.
"Arizona," he said icily. “Why did you throw a bowl of minestrone at Miss Dulcet?"
"Because I don't want a blasted bowl of minestrone," she mimicked his tone, feigning interest in her book.
He stepped into the room, approached her bedside. "What do you want, then?"
It was no use. She slammed down the book on the bed next to her. "I want out of this bed. I want out of this house. I want my plane reservation for Malakazoo, you smug jackal!"
"You are in no condition to cross the street, let alone…”
"I'm FINE!" she exploded, and pushed herself up on one arm, struggling to get to her feet.
He raised one hand to stall her. "You are?" he asked mildly.
"That's what I said."
"Fully." She glared at him, daring him to contradict her.
"In perfect condition."
Without warning, he swung one fist at her face, blindingly swift, a blow with enough force to knock her unconscious. Her eyes widened and her arm flew up instinctively to block it.
His fist came to a stop, a scant breath away, the back of his hand just brushing her cheek whiskers. Her arm hung uselessly in the air, where it had moved too slowly to parry the blow.
The tableau froze for an endless moment as they stared at each other, neither one moving.
Then Shere Khan dropped his hand and turned his back on the bed and its occupant. "Get some rest," he advised quietly, and left.
The vase from the bedside table hurtled at his retreating shadow and shattered against the door as it closed behind him.
* * *
In the darkness a small figure crept down the hall. In one direction a soft glow of light marked the kitchen, where a nightlight was always on in case someone needed a middle of the night snack. The kitten lit across one of the rooms, where objects under glass gleamed in the faint city lights that came in through the big windows. She took no notice of the shining objects, having something more important in mind.
She didn’t notice that one of them, a large green gem in a glass case near the middle of the room, seemed a bit too green. As she passed, it flickered.
In the room, a guard walked sleepily back and forth, silhouetted against the windows and the lights of Cape Suzette beyond. The kitten stepped so softly that the guard couldn’t hear her.
Li’l reached the hall table and carefully removed the phone. Trailing the phone cord behind her, she stepped into a coat closet and softly shut the door. In the dark, she picked up the receiver and whispered the exchange to the operator.
There was a pause, and then Li’l hissed urgently into the phone, “Kit, that you?… it’s me, you dumb bear. You have to get me out of here… Shere Khan’s apartment!… No… it terrible. Frilly dolls, frilly room and I had to wear a dress… stop laughing!… No, Kit, I am serious. You and Baloo have to rescue… oh yeah? Thanks for nothing!”
In the darkness, she banged the receiver into its cradle.
Down the hall in the artifacts room, the green gem continued to flicker, pulsing like a heartbeat.
* * *
The kitten squirmed, but Miss Dulcet kept a tight hold on her ear.
“… a small antique box from the front hall table. The emerald-tipped letter-opener the Sultan of Cashmere gave you. Seventy-nine cents from the butler’s coat pocket. A fountain pen. And three silver spoons from the good silver!” Miss Dulcet finished, her voice rising to even higher levels of indignation about the last item.
“Lemme go, lemme go!” Li’l Bit wriggled and tried to kick her, but the cheetah, having held a few posts as a governess when she was young, was experienced in such matters.
“I see,” Shere said with great dignity. He arched an eyebrow at the kitten, who stuck out her tongue at him.
Seated in a chair next to the big desk, Mrs. Snarly sat with pen poised over stenography pad, lips pursed with disapproval.
“Mister Khan, this simply must stop,” declared Miss Dulcet. “We simply cannot have household objects disappearing into the pockets of this… this… child. Particularly valuable objects.”
“Yes, Miss Dulcet, I know,” Shere said tiredly. He rubbed his eyes with two fingers, then massaged the bridge of his nose. “Leave the child here. I’ll speak with her.”
“Very well,” Miss Dulcet said, as if she thought it a very bad idea indeed. Releasing the kitten’s ear, she crossed her arms, waiting expectantly.
“Ladies, if you’ll excuse us a moment.”
His secretary and house manager left, closing the doors of the office behind them.
* * *
The next day, with a sigh of resignation, Mrs. Snarly placed an order for another new desk. It was the third time this month. But she couldn’t very well allow the boss to work on a desk that had deep claw marks scoring the surface.
* * *
“That wasn’t a very nice thing to say to Mister Khan,” Arizona said blandly, on her third circle about the room. As her injury began to heal, she had developed a means of exercise that involved rapidly crutching around and around the outer edge of the rug in Shere Khan's office. The room's dimensions nearly approximated an indoor track, and so was her venue of choice, despite his repeated objections.
Li’l Bit sat cross-legged on Shere Khan’s desk like a bizarre paperweight from his travels, while he tried to draft a contract for a large business deal. The kitten squinted with blatant curiosity down at his papers. “Mister Khan not very nice to me. I not the maid. But now I have to clean bathroom, do dishes, and polish doorknobs."
"If you ask me--" Arizona said, passing them on her circuit "you deserved to be punished. You aren't living on the streets anymore, Li'l. Stop stealing."
"I steal in valley. You pleased."
"That was different. That was life or death. We're safe here."
“But Shere Khan steal --- right, Arizona?”
“That’s also different,” Arizona sang out, with a touch of mockery, from the opposite end of the room. “That’s business.”
Suddenly Shere slammed his palms down hard on the new desk, making a vase, several pens, and the intercom jump. He took a long deep breath, closed his eyes, then opened them again. “I. Do. Not. Steal.”
Li’l hopped off the desk and beat a hasty retreat.
“Besides,” he added pointedly, “I thought you couldn’t read.”
“Can’t,” the kitten said, shrugging. “Not yet. I overhear you talk on phone.”
“When?” he asked, his voice dripping with ice.
“Last night. You made call to Far East.” She wrinkled her nose.
“You understood everything I said?”
“Most of it,” Li’l replied. She held her arms out straight to either side and walked the straight line of the carpet. “Except how you launder money? Won’t it get wet?”
“Hm. Yes. Yes, it will,” Shere said. He caught Arizona’s eye and his lips twitched.
She stopped as she reached his desk again. Breathing hard from the exercise, she leaned the crutches against the desk and supported herself by holding on to the back of his chair.
“Don’t you think perhaps it’s time you took a lunch break?” she said, leaning down so her chin was just over his shoulder.
Li’l Bit began to run in circles, arms outstretched and tilted as she pretended to be flying.
“You work too hard,” she called out. She aimed herself at the desk, leapt, landed, and slid across its surface on her knees. Papers scattered everywhere.
The tiger looked at the two females on either side of him.
“Very well,” he said, voice a rumble of dignity. “But this time, Arizona, you’re
* * *
In the semi-darkness, something stirred. The guard walking the room, a pleasant-faced hound dog, jerked his head around. All was still. Cape Suzette slept in the utter darkness of pre-dawn. The apartment was wrapped in soft silence, broken only by the faint hum of electricity.
The green stone was throbbing with light, growing in intensity. Suddenly a blue-green tendril of mist shot out and lashed at the guard like a whip. He inhaled sharply, then dropped to the floor. He lay in a deep sleep, chest rising and falling, as the mist retreated to the stone, and then began to rise. It spread until it covered half the ceiling.
Within the mist, shapes took form. A tree. A rock. A dwelling. Faces, beings going about their daily lives among their huts and trees in a grassy valley.
Then the faces grew angry, their mouths moving in silent, angry shouts. The yelling faces made of mist morphed into spears and arrows. Finally, with a swirl of green light, the vision disappeared, as if someone had turned off a light switch.
The mist remained as a thin tendril hanging in the air. It descended to inspect the guard. Not finding what it sought, it curled into the hall, headed for the living quarters. It moved into a room, finding the tigress who slumbered within, then flitted on its way. Down the hall it found another room where a tiger slept.
Finally it found what it sought. The kitten lay tangled up in the sheets, on her stomach, one arm outflung. The frilled edge of the canopy stirred as the blue-green tendril brushed it. It hovered a moment as if indecisive. Then it plunged, straight into the small body.
Li’l Bit rolled over and sat up, eyes open, her body bathed in a green light like the color of the Cape Suzette bay on a calm afternoon. For a moment she blinked, confused at what had awakened her.
Then her eyes burned with a strange green-blue light, and she began to scream.
* * *
Despite her crutches, and the fact that her room was farther away from Li’l’s than Shere’s, Arizona reached the room first. Shere, who hadn't taken the time to put a robe on over his green silk pajamas, was right behind her. Arizona gasped as she froze. Blindly, as if she didn’t realize she was doing it, her hand groped behind her and reached for his. He caught it and held on tight.
Li’l Bit sat up in the bed. Her eyes glowed green-blue.
She was shouting something.
“It’s ancient Yuran,” Arizona said wonderingly, her voice shaking. She cleared her throat. “Li’l’s speaking ancient Yuran. She doesn’t know ancient Yuran. Li’l…” Arizona hobbled closer, hand outstretched to the kitten.
Eyes blazing like twin blue flames, Li’l turned and roared. The delicate little china tea set shattered, and the blast of sound sent Arizona flying backwards. Shere caught her.
He sniffed the air. “What on earth…?”
“Wet grass.” Arizona closed her eyes. “Flowers. It smells… like the valley…”
“I’m not familiar with the language,” Shere said, steadying Arizona with a hand on her shoulder. “What is she saying?”
Arizona watched Li’l, who continued to shout in the beautiful, ancient language of a long-dead people.
“Dead… no, death… comes,” Arizona translated. “It is happening again. It comes. No more killing. No more. No more.”
“No more?” Shere asked.
“The valley…we found signs that the tribes who had lived there may have killed each other in a great war. Wiped each other out. Li’l,” Arizona said, pleading. “What is it, Li’l? What comes? Please,” she added, her voice growing husky. “Come back to me.”
The kitten whispered something else.
“War,” Arizona translated. As she spoke, the kitten rose from her bed and stood in her frilly white nightgown, still bathed in the greenish light. She looked delicate and not at all like the tough street child Arizona knew.
The kitten continued to speak in the ancient language.
“We killed each other, so long ago," Arizona translated. "Our valley was so peaceful, then the killing came. Now, it comes again. As it always has, as it always will.”
Shere’s grip on Arizona’s hand tightened. She leaned against him. They were both thinking of the same thing, of the newsreels of the Houn raids on Walla Walla Bing Bang. And Arizona thought of the soldiers in the peaceful valley, smashing up antiquities in search of an object of power.
Li’l Bit whispered the word for war again. Then she repeated it, voice growing louder each time, until she was screaming.
“She can’t stay like this!” Arizona pulled herself away from Shere, muscles tensing, as if she would spring on an invisible foe.
Before she could move, Shere brushed past her and stood facing the kitten.
“What do you want us to do?” he asked, with the brusque, businesslike voice he used for boardrooms.
“Promise…” Arizona translated again for him.
“Promise you will warn. You will try to stop it.”
“I promise,” Shere said solemnly.
“How do I know you will do this?” The thing inside Li’l Bit demanded.
“You have my word.”
The room suddenly darkened as the light drained from Li’l Bit and the glow vanished from her eyes. The scents were gone. As the kitten slumped, Shere caught her, kneeling at the same time.
Still dazed, Li'l looked in confusion around the room, nose wrinkling. Then she noticed Shere. Her face crumpled and she flung herself at the tiger, wrapping her arms around his neck.
Hesitantly, awkwardly, Shere Khan hugged the kitten back and held her while her tiny body trembled. Arizona knelt beside them, and touched Li'l's face.
Her sobbing quieted. She pulled back, looking crossly at Shere. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her nightgown, stepping away from him.
“What…was…that?” Arizona wondered, taking the handkerchief Shere handed her and wiping Li’l’s tears with it.
“The stone,” Shere said, rising, “it has to be.”
Arizona picked up Li'l and put her in bed. She pulled the covers up over the kitten, who was already growing sleepy again. The tigress leaned down and kissed the child’s forehead.
“I hope you don’t remember this,” she said.
She sat there for nearly an hour, keeping vigil, before leaving the room to join Shere where he sat in a stern, high-backed chair in the hallway. He was now wearing a robe and slippers. He stood up at her approach.
Without a word, as if it were perfectly natural, Arizona limped over to him and slid into his embrace. For a moment they remained like that. She pulled away first.
“Thank you,” she said awkwardly, smoothing down her nightgown. “If you hadn’t figured out what to do, what to ask, who knows what that thing might have done to her.”
Outside the tall windows at the end of the hall, dawn was breaking over Cape Suzette. A pale pink sunrise tugged at the darkness, revealing towers and spires. The distant hills turned from shapeless dark humps to lush green.
Arizona turned, retrieved her crutches from the floor, and walked back to her room, hugging herself as though chilled.
Shere watched her go. Then he walked down the hall to the windows. He stood there for a long time, watching the city awaken.
* * *
A few weeks later
Out on the terrace of Le Maison des Crepes Internationale, all of them --- Shere, Arizona, Li’l, O’Bowens, Katy and Myra --- were almost enjoying an excellent breakfast, Shere’s treat. The restaurant was situated on the rooftop of one of Cape Suzette's oldest buildings, and commanded a view of the city's posh central shopping district and the harbor.
Katy and O’Bowens sat next to each other, talking companionably. Myra and Arizona faced them across the table, loaded with steaming plates of fluffy eggs and cinnamon toast, buns dripping with butter, freshly baked muffins of several kinds, juicy sausages, pancakes and of course… crepes.
Arizona’s ability with her crutches was improving, and Shere had gallantly assisted her into her seat near the head of the table, making sure that she could extend her leg. He, of course, took the head chair. It was no accident that she sat next to him; he was pleased to note that she didn’t seem to mind accepting his ministrations. He was careful not to linger too long, though. Li’l, sitting on Arizona’s opposite side, gobbled down two stacks of pancakes, smothered in butter, maple syrup and catsup. Shere raised an eyebrow at the last item, but said nothing.
“How much do you all know about the society that lived in that valley?”
“Next to nothing --- they seemed to be an offshoot of several well-known civilizations,” Arizona replied.
Myra looked uneasy and began to poke her food with her fork.
The tigress noticed and asked her, “What is it?”
“Arizona… when you called and told us what happened, it sounded incredible… but do you remember some of the artifacts the CLAW found? The condition the arrowheads were in? How many there were?”
“I’m not sure. Enough to do considerable damage.”
“Not to mention a high concentration of grave markers… " Katy added. She bit her lip and trailed off, for once at a loss for words. O’Bowens sighed and shook his head sadly. Under the table, he hesitantly took her hand. She did not pull away.
“Then that explains it. The glyphs on the wall of the cave, and some of the things Li’l—it—said last night…that civilization died out, vanished, because they wiped themselves out,” Arizona said quietly. “War.”
Shere who had been quietly listening to the exchange, finished his coffee, and stood up.
“If you will excuse me, I have some important calls to make.”
Arizona looked up at him sharply. “Important?”
He said simply, “I gave my word.”
Silently, they watched him go. Only Li'l was oblivious. She continued to eat her pancakes as if nothing unusual had happened.
"What's he talking about?" Katy demanded. "Off to make some business deal, I suppose. He has no manners."
O'Bowens squeezed Katy's hand where it lay on the table. "Somehow I don't think that's all there is to it," he said quietly.
Arizona absently poked at her remaining pancakes with her fork.
"No, it isn't. He's Shere Khan. He always keeps his word."