Board stiff, p.1
Xanth novel #38
Premier Digital Publishing - Los Angeles
Copyright © 2013 Piers Anthony
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher, except where permitted by law.
Print ISBN: 978-1-62467-086-2
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
She looked at her reflection in the water of the shallow well. Luxuriant midnight black hair to her breathtakingly slender waist, matching dark eyes in a lovely face. A torso coming yea-close to absolute perfection. She was man’s desire. That was part of the problem.
Well, on with it. “Oh, Wishing Well, they say you will grant any wish, provided you like the offering given for it. But that if you don’t like the offering, you may still grant the wish, but not in a way the wisher wants. So the wisher is sorry she ever bothered you. So it’s a gamble, because no one really knows what you like.”
She paused, but of course there was no answer. The surface of the water remained mirror-smooth. But it did seem to be listening.
“They also say that the correct way to approach you is to introduce yourself, explain your situation, make your wish, and then drop the offering into the water. That the wish will be granted instantly, and that’s it; if you don’t like the way it is done, you’re still stuck with it. You don’t do un-wishes.”
There was a faint ripple. Was that interest?
“I was named Irrelevant Kandy, because—well, I don’t exactly know why. But I think I was named in part after the irrelephant, which is a large white or pink animal with a very long nose that is incapable of making any difference no matter how hard it tries. My name is a curse, because everyone ignored me, thinking I was irrelevant, when I’m actually a very pretty girl, as you can see. So I tried going by my initial instead. That made me I Kandy. Then everyone looked at me. In fact they looked too much; their eyes wandered to places that, well, made me blush. Wherever I go, now, those Wandering Eyes pursue me. I almost feel them peering down inside my halter and up under my skirt, trying to pull off my clothing. They don’t care about me at all, just how I look, or how certain parts of me look, and their cynosure makes me feel dirty there. This is no good either.”
She paused again. Now there was a stronger ripple, almost in the shape of an eye. The well was definitely looking. She hoped it was orienting on her face.
“So I’m caught between two extremes: irrelevance, or getting eyed. Maybe that’s my talent; I’m not aware of any other. This ruins my social life. I’m actually a smart girl who would make any man an excellent wife. But no man sees that. No man is interested in my mind or personality, just my whatevers. So here is my wish: I’m board stiff. I want Adventure, Excitement, and Romance.”
Now the ripples made her reflection shimmer. She definitely had the wishing well’s attention.
“I searched all over for a suitable offering,” she continued. “It occurred to me that how you look is governed by the sand on your bottom. It is frankly sort of dull. So I found a pretty colored stone that should add interest. Here it is: my offering, and I hope you like it.”
She brought out the stone, which was like a faceted blue diamond, sparkling all over. She dropped it into the well.
Something happened. A sudden whirlwind surrounded her, lifting her up and ripping off her clothing. She was changing, somehow. Then she fell flat on the ground.
Literally. She had been transformed into a flat, stiff board with two knotholes for eyes.
Belatedly she realized her mistake: she had said she was “board stiff” when she meant “bored stiff.” It was a mental typo, done in the tension of the moment. The well evidently had not appreciated her offering, and had punished her by making her bored a punnishly literal board.
She was doomed. She tried to cry, but all that happened was a small oozing of sap from her knot eyes.
She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, feeling justifiably sorry for herself. Never in her wildest dreams had she anticipated becoming a stiff board. It was not the slightest bit feminine. What was to become of her? Would someone gather her for firewood? Oh, the horror!
Then another person approached the wishing well. Kandy’s knot-eyes extended to either side of the board, and she could see very well despite lying flat on the ground. She could also hear the footfalls despite having no ears she knew of. It was a handsome young man with short curly blond hair, a bit of a blond beard, and a muscular body. Exactly the kind she might have liked to flirt with, assuming his eyes stayed in his face.
The man’s foot just missed stepping on her. Watch it! she thought. If you were a woman I’d see right up under your dress to your panties and you’d never live it down. But of course he wasn’t a woman, and his jeans showed nothing; her attempt at sarcastic humor fell flat as the board she was. It was probably just as well that she was unable to utter it.
He came to stand by the well, gazing down into the water. “Hi there,” he said, and paused as if expecting a reply. When there was none, he continued. “My name is Ease, because it is my talent to make hard things easy. I can do just about any simple thing without much sweat. That’s the problem: I crave a challenge that will give me personal satisfaction, and I haven’t found it. I even went to the Good Magician to find a challenge, but he had no answer for me, and I never paid with any service. But I know better than to wish for that outright; I need to be more specific, or you’ll give me something that’s technically correct but actually messes me up. Such as changing my talent to the ability to absorb magic from something, then play it back, or emulating animalistic ability so I could fight like an animal, or the talent of always taking the shortest distance between two points; I’d just foul those up. So I have thought of three things that might help, any one of which might bring me satisfaction: the perfect weapon, the perfect adventure, the perfect woman. Give me one of those, your choice, and I’ll use it to get satisfaction.”
Now that was interesting. Recognizing his own limitations, he was letting the well decide which wish to grant, while offering it fairly general directions. Maybe there was a bit of originality in him. She liked that.
“Actually they don’t even have to be perfect,” he continued. “I’d settle for just about any pretty girl who liked me and would support me loyally, or any adventure that was exciting and interesting, or even a cutless or cutmore, you know, a sword that cuts women less or others more.”
He paused, probably contemplating the ripples on the water in the well. “What I have to offer is a lesser thing, but maybe you’ll like it. It’s this old wo
That, too, was interesting. He was offering something for the well’s intellectual side, rather than its physical side. She liked that too.
Nothing happened. After a while Ease sighed. “Don’t like it, eh? I’m sorry. I thought you would. I’ll take it back.” He reached into the water. “Oops, you’re deeper than you look. I can’t reach it. Well, I’ll leave it. Thanks for nothing.”
She sympathized with his frustration. The well had accepted his gift without granting his wish. That was too bad, because it really was a thoughtful gift.
He turned away from the well. Then he saw the board. “What’s this?” He bent down to pick it up, grasping Kandy about her ankles. “A board. Good hard wood, nice heft. Must’ve fallen off a wagon. Might make a halfway decent club.” He swung her experimentally, so that the air swished by her face. “Okay, I’ll take it; might as well leave here with something.”
He wanted to use her as a club? Kandy was outraged. Why don’t you club your own fat head, yokel?” she demanded silently.
Ease walked on, talking to himself. “I really thought the stupid well would grant my wish. I even made it easy, with the three choices. But all I got was this dumb board.”
Kandy was outraged anew. Dumb board?! I’m a transformed woman, you idiot! As far as you’re concerned, the perfect woman: in your grasp and completely silent. But her joke wasn’t funny, even to her.
Then she suffered a blinding revelation. She was his perfect woman! The well had taken his dagger and given him her. But he didn’t know it. Wasn’t that just like a man!
Then she suffered a follow-up thought. If the well had granted Ease’s wish in such a way that the man didn’t know it, what about Kandy herself? She had asked for Adventure, Excitement, and Romance. Was she about to get it, while in the form of a board? What irony!
Yet this was one way she could be involved in things without those dread Wandering Eyes constantly goosing her. So maybe there just might be the hint of a suggestion of a reason for her present state. She could get to know Ease pretty well by being his club, without him being distracted by her appearance. It was possibly the only way she could associate closely with him or any man without being eye candy.
Except for one thing, one humongously huge thing: she was a board. Even if he realized her true nature, what good would it do him, or her? A man couldn’t love a board.
Dispirited, she drifted off to sleep. What else was there to do?
She woke when it was evening. Ease was using her to whack down some dry grass to make a bed. He must have walked, and eaten and located a place to sleep in the field. Why hadn’t he simply gone home?
Irritated by this minor mystery, she tried something pointless: she threw her thought at him. WHY?
“Because they’d laugh at me back home,” he answered. “I said I was going off to seek the perfect weapon, adventure, or woman, and they said well, return when you succeed, knowing that any such thing was well beyond my talent of making things easy. If I return with nothing but this stupid board, they’ll laugh their rear ends off.”
Kandy was amazed. He had heard her! And responded. But he didn’t know it was her, or even that it was the board. He must have thought it was his own rhetorical question. Still, that was progress. Could she tell him her nature? She was dubious. Even if she got through to him, and he realized that she was a woman, what then? He still couldn’t do anything with her, other than use her to club things, which wasn’t very romantic. It would be an exercise in frustration for both of them. She had to throw off the transformation spell before identifying herself.
Still, she was curious, so she tried again. WHAT NOW?
“I have no idea,” Ease said. “If the Good Magician couldn’t help me, and the Wishing Well couldn’t help me, maybe I’m helpless.”
Kandy was not satisfied with that. TRY THE GOOD MAGICIAN AGAIN.
“Why should I do that?”
WITH A DIFFERENT QUESTION.
Ease paused, considering. “I think I’m getting smarter. If at first I don’t succeed, try try again. Or whatever.”
Good enough. SO DO IT.
“Now I shall hie me off to see the Good Magician, first thing in the morning,” he decided. “I know he charges a year’s service or equivalent for an Answer, but since the wishing well failed me, what else is there? So I’ll just go ask him how I can achieve personal satisfaction, and that will be that. If he fails me again, I’ve lost nothing.”
Kandy doubted it. She knew about Good Magician Humfrey, the century-old-and-not-counting Magician of Information, notorious for his terminal grumpiness. Truth be told, he wasn’t much better than the wishing well for giving satisfactory Answers. There was no telling what Ease would find himself involved in. But as he said, what else was there?
Ease completed his nest making, which because of his talent had been an easy chore, and lay down in his clothing, holding the board firmly in one hand. She knew why: if a hungry monster came during the night, Ease wanted to be able to bash it on the snout without having to cast about for his weapon.
The man closed his eyes, and in two and a half moments was asleep.
And Kandy reverted to woman form. There she was, nude, with the man’s hand clamped on her left ankle. The spell was gone!
“Oh!” she exclaimed, gratified.
The sound woke Ease. But as his eyes opened, Kandy was the board.
Seeing nothing, Ease shut his eyes again and reverted to sleep. And Kandy womanformed again.
Now she worked it out: the spell abated only while she was in contact with a sleeping person. When by herself she had been a board, and with Ease awake ditto. When he slept, holding her, she was herself. What torture!
Or was it? He could not grope her or mistreat her or even look at her bare form while asleep. She was safe from the things she had detested. She had wanted a man to get to know her other qualities before orienting on her body. She just hadn’t figured it would happen while she was a board bashing monsters on the snout.
She explored her situation. Because he held her ankle, she was extended halfway over his head. In fact had she remained a woman when he woke, he would have been staring into her pantyless whatever. That would not do.
She folded over to put one hand on his hand at her ankle. She could lift it away, and slide down so that they were face to face. But she would have to make sure they never lost contact.
She drew his hand slowly off her ankle, then held it in hers while she slid down. Now where was she to put it? On her slender leg? On her full thigh? On her plush bottom? Her soft chest? None of these would do. Finally she put it on her back, as if he were dancing with her. That was about the only safe place.
Now what? She was lying next to him, facing him. In fact their faces were close together. Suppose they were to kiss?
Why not? She slowly put her lips to his mouth and kissed him. His breath caught and his hand on her back stiffened, but then he relaxed. She had not awakened him, fortunately.
But that seemed to be the limit. She could touch him, she could kiss him, but anything further might wake him, and then she’d be a board again.
Kandy made a small sigh of frustration. The kiss had been fun; she could get to like Ease if she tried. Then she got an idea as a bulb flashed over her head. She would talk to him.
“Hello, Ease,” she murmured. “I am Kandy, your dream woman. I came to the wishing well to make a wish, but got transformed into a board instead. I hope you aren’t bored with me, hee-hee. Maybe someday I will be able
But what was the point? He was asleep. This was dull. So she closed her eyes and tried to sleep herself. And failed; it seemed that while he slept, she could not. Maybe it was something about the spell, that allowed her to sleep only when she was in board form. She had to be board, or bored.
So she lay awake, irritated by the situation. Why hadn’t the well had the courtesy to let her sleep while reverted?
Then she heard something. It was a faint rustling, as of a mouse in the grass. It came closer. Then she heard another sound, as of something breathing. A serpent! Slithering toward its prey.
“Ease!” she said. “Wake!”
But this time her voice did not awaken him. He was too soundly asleep. Bleep!
So she bit him on the ear.
“Ow!” he exclaimed, waking.
Kandy was the board again, with his hand on her middle. She could say nothing.
Then Ease heard the breathing. He leaped up, sliding his hand down to her ankle. Good thing she was not flesh while he did that!
The serpent came into sight in the moonlight. It was enormous, big enough to swallow a man. Ease reacted immediately. He swung the board at the snake’s snout, just as the head shot forward, fangs bared.
Kandy realized that the board was going to miss the snout and strike the neck. That was no good; the serpent would slither on by and bite the man’s arm. She reacted before she even worked it out mentally, adjusting her course so that she was on target. She smacked into the snout with a satisfying impact.
Surprised, the serpent whipped back. Then, seeing its prey on guard and effectively armed, it slithered rapidly away.
“Good thing I happened to wake in time,” Ease said. “I forgot I wasn’t on an enchanted path. If it hadn’t been for that itch in my ear, it would have had me.”
He didn’t know. Yet how else could it be? He would never believe that a board had nipped his ear.