Chapter 22: A Cold Master’s Regard
I woke with my arms full of happiness and my morning wood wrapped in soft warm buttocks. This was a definite upgrade on my normal waking conditions.
My bared shoulders were cold in the morning spring air, and it was a little drafty on my bared everything-else down below, so I scrunched the top of the sleeping bag up closer around our necks. While wiggling about, I must have squeezed the boob I had in one hand, because Kaitlyn grunted and woke up.
I chose to interpret that as “Please kiss my neck, Davie,” so I did. “Good morning, Kaitlyn,” I whispered in her ear. She snuggled up against me, and I pulled her in tighter.
We said nothing else for another ten minutes, just watched the morning sunlight slowly brighten the small dome tent’s fabric.
There were now only a few small pieces of work left before we cleared this whole area of trash: the bits near the canyon mouths that opened onto easy road access, which we’d avoided so far after Kaitlyn’s run-in with the three horny guys on our last trip.
I spoke quietly into her ear, “Today’s going to be a special day, Kaitlyn. We’re going to finish the project, and you’re going to learn a cool new skill.” That shook her morning lassitude off right quick.
“Do tell!” she replied, eagerly.
“Breakfast before play,” I mock-chided.
“No, not more secrets!” she pouted.
“Not like the other one, no. You’ll have this one out of me as soon as I get fed and we get out to the first of the canyon mouths.”
Down went the zipper without delay. I let out a startled “Ha!” when the cool mid-Spring air hit my Kaitlyn-warmed skin.
You may have been in a similar situation while camping yourself, but now realize that we had no plans to squirm into cold clothes this morning, moving quickly to warm them up with the morning activities. If I had anything to say about it, we’d be nude about 28 hours straight this trip, counting from our arrival at the campsite mid-day yesterday, going until we had to leave for home this afternoon.
In the interest of battling the cold, we just grabbed a pair of granola bars, brushed our teeth using a sparing bit of water from the CamelBak, and drank our fill from it.
“I need to put some sunscreen on before we go,” said Kaitlyn.
“No, not today. Trust me on this,” I said.
She lifted an eyebrow but said nothing.
With that, we jogged off towards the canyon mouth we’d biked into yesterday, that being the closest of the ones left to address.
When we got to the point in the twisty canyon where we were about to be visible from the road, I slowed to a stop, Kaitlyn following suit. We were warmed up now, but thankfully not yet sweaty, or we’d be freezing again soon.
“Okay now, Kaitlyn, we’re going to have to sit down and get into a trance state together, because this skill is difficult to describe in words. It’s best if you just see me do it through a Gaia bond, then try to mimic it.”
She was clearly reluctant to sit down on the cold sand, which would envelop her thighs and buttocks, so I then said, “Hey, at least you don’t have dangly bits to lay down on the sand, too!” She grimaced at what I was about to put myself through on her behalf, then steeled herself to her lesser task. “This will also be good incentive for you to learn to slip into rapport with Gaia and I quickly.”
Kaitlyn nodded, folded into a cross-legged sitting position, closed her eyes, and started clearing her mind.
I followed, sliding easily into a trance on my way down to the ground, then waited for her life presence to show up. After only about half a minute, she was there with me.
“You’re getting better at this. Now attend,” I quietly commanded. Much more slowly than that night in the alley — just a week and a half ago now! — I weaved the invisibility bubble loose around my body, then let it shrink to fit my body like a second skin and stabilize there. “Did you see the weave? Can you mimic it?”
“Yes, I think so,” she replied.
“Open your eyes,” I told her.
She did, looked around, then put her head on a swivel, whipping it back and forth in a rising panic. “Davie! Don’t you leave me out here, you ass!”
I leaned over and quietly said, “Boo,” with a puff of air in her ear.
“Baaah!” she yelled, scrabbling away in a crab pose like I was a fast-moving spider coming straight at her. She mastered her instincts, then sunk slowly back to the ground, still staring at where she last saw me.
I reached a finger out and drew a heart in the sand, oriented toward her. “Forgive me?” I asked, plaintively.
“Oh holy shit, you most asshole of all gurus!” she berated me.
I laughed, knowing she had to be okay if she was crafting such creative curses. “Invisibility!” I announced grandly. “This is how we’ll finish today’s cleanup work in full sight of the roads passing the canyon mouths we left undone yesterday.”
“Wow,” she said slowly, in wonder. She took a good 10 seconds to think through some of the implications. “Why don’t you do this all the time? We could ride naked! We could shop naked! We could… Wow!”
“No, we cannot, for multiple reasons, shishya. First, recall that we can’t do magic while not connected to the Earth, or when we’re too close to products of technology. Walking down the sidewalk counts. Walking into one of those old timey knick-knack stores that cater to tourists counts double. Walking into a bike store counts… Well, lots. A computer store? Forget about it; I tried it on a lark one night at work after everyone else had gone home, and I was shut down instantly.”
It took her a second, but then she let out a bark of laughter, realizing what that meant: I was naked in the middle of the office.
I let her mirth subside and was about to go on when I saw her thinking, so I forbore continuing, waiting for her to get her question out first.
“Can’t I just go out to a secluded garden or something, strip off, hide my clothes, and then come back in? No, wait, don’t tell me…the bubble will burst as soon as I’m back on the sidewalk or inside the store or whatever, right?”
“At your skill level, it’s as close to correct as makes no difference,” I confirmed. “However, as you grow in your skill, you’ll acquire an ability to carry a reserve of power that you can use anywhere, much like you can hold your breath under water. But like breath, it’s not good for very long, so I’d recommend that you practice with it in low-stakes situations first. Establishing the invisibility bubble requires much more magic mojo than maintaining it. I’d guess that your lower limit at the moment would be establishing it in a quiet corner of the Old City Park, south of town. You’d be able to run naked through the grass, visible only as a series of footsteps! But, as soon as you stepped out onto that quiet street that runs past the park, you’d lose the spell instantly.”
I could see her imagining the situation, not so funny now that we were talking about her being caught naked in public instead of me. Realization washed over her face. “Yeah, that would be bad.”
“Or at least startling, yes,” I agreed. “I’m good for only about two minutes of invisibility on a Moab sidewalk myself. It’ll take you a while to achieve that level, I think, even as quickly as you’re coming along.”
She seemed to take that assessment with mixed feelings.
“So, the second major flaw in your giddy plans is that modern bikes are rather high-tech items, not much more than a century old, a blip on the scale of things, and your new bike is miles beyond what the Wright brothers were tinkering with back before they got into airplanes. You’ll have a very hard time doing any magic while riding. For that matter, I’d have a hard time, too.
“Third, the invisibility bubble contracts to fit your body as it stabilizes, skin-tight. It includes your hair, since although it’s dead material, it’s natural and still attached to your body. If a hair gets pulled loose, it falls out of the bubble and appears out of nowhere from another’s perspective. With some skill, you’ll be able to modify the bubble to include something touching you if it’s sufficiently natural; say, a fresh-picked flower garland woven into your hair. You definitely cannot expand it to cover a bicycle; well, I certainly can’t. It’d be difficult enough for me just to maintain the spell while sitting on that bike, and it’d drain my reserves fast. All of that together means that others would see a bicycle pedaling itself down the road. That’ll draw comment, though only up until the point where you use the last of your reserve, appearing naked to the world atop a bike.”
“Enlightenment dawns, my guru,” Kaitlyn responded. “Any more problems I should know about?”
“The last reason we can’t go shopping while invisible in Moab is simple ethics. Using invisibility is roughly equivalent to surreptitiously placing a hidden camera in that same place. You are the hidden camera.”
“Yes, I see that now,” she said seriously. She was doubtless thinking about all of the places she didn’t want to find a hidden camera.
“As with all matters of ethics, there are grey areas, loopholes, countervailing factors… Not long ago, I used this same spell to hide from someone. I had every right to be where I was, but I just didn’t want anyone to know I was there, so I hid under an invisibility bubble. The ethics are the same as hiding behind some bit of regular concealment.”
“Tell me!” she said with child-like wonder.
“Story time later. I’m freezing my nuts off here for your edification, shishya,” I said pointedly.
She scrunched her head down and shoulders up in a chastened posture and motioned for me to continue.
“There’s one more thing you have to know about magical invisibility, Kaitlyn. The naive version of the spell sends all,” then I raised my voice slightly, “all of the light in one side of the bubble and back out the other, clear ’round the bubble. That leaves you blind.”
I waited for her to process this, continuing once I saw her beginning to nod. “Therefore, you usually want to make a small addition to the spell, one that tracks your pupils to send most of the light through to the other side of the bubble but to send a smidge of it through the bubble’s wall to your retinas instead. On a bright day like today, it’s like wearing really dark sunglasses. In a pinch, you can amp up your eyes’ receptivity, too, but for today, we’ll keep it simple.”
Kaitlyn leant towards me, squinting a bit, so I said, “Yes, if you look carefully, you can see two spots in front of you that are a bit darker than they should be. With the mottled sandstone behind me, you probably can’t find them unless I move quickly, but if I stand above you…” and I suited actions to words, looming over her to put the bright sky behind my head, “…they’re more easily visible.”
“Yeah, now I see them!” she said, fascinated.
I sat back down and resumed, “So watch out for that. If you’re up against a bright simple background like a cloudless blue sky or a light-colored painted wall, it might be best to do without the pupil holes, trading sight for complete invisibility.”
“Yes, my guru,” she said seriously.
I reappeared, then said, “Lecture time is over; it’s lab time now. You saw me do it once before, shishya; watch me do it again with knowledge of what I’m doing now, then give it a try yourself.”
She closed her eyes, slid back into a trance, and nodded her readiness, so I disappeared again. She nodded to indicate that she had seen my work, that she was ready to try it herself, and…nothing happened. Her forehead creased, the corners of her mouth turned down, but…nothing continued to happen.
I quietly spoke, “This is a tricky spell. Expect it to take some work to…”
And she disappeared.
“…master,” I finished weakly.
She must have looked around, then burst out, “Holy cats, I’m invisible! I’m fracking invisible!”
“But not inaudible,” I chided.
She let out a low chuckle, and then I saw a spray of sand from her sitting position and another smaller one about three feet in front of it. I’d spent some time learning a few of the hand-to-hand martial arts, so my body instantly reacted to the data below the level of conscious thought: I fell backwards, lifted a leg and planted a foot into her breadbasket, sending her end over end with a judo throw into the sand behind me, breaking the spell.
It wasn’t until the action was over that I figured out what had happened: she’d sprung to her feet and was intending to tackle me in a bear hug.
I looked up at her from my supine position, quite visible again from my upside-down perspective, having lost control over the spell. She was scowling at me through a face full of sand, spitting some out and blowing some out her nose, too. “Ow,” she said petulantly.
“Nor are your footprints invisible,” I scolded, in my best guru tone. I conjured a sand shower by way of apology for the sharp lesson, causing her to shiver.
“Okay, okay, lessons learnt, my guru,” she said, her exuberance tempered.
“Good. You can still be caught, even invisible. Never forget that. We live in much more enlightened times than the Salem witches, but if caught invisible and then revealed naked, the local authorities can make life rather hard for us; to say nothing of the mob.”
She let go of the last of her resentment over me spoiling her celebration. “Yes, my guru,” she said, all seriousness.
“Cheer up. Used carefully, invisibility is terribly useful and often a lot of fun! Get your bubble back on, then follow me down to the road edge.”
Half a minute later, we were trotting out of the canyon mouth, utterly naked, unbeknownst to any. I stopped about twenty feet shy of the road edge, but Kaitlyn continued to about five feet off as a Jeep flew past, doing a good 50 mph on the rough dirt road, blowing a cloud of dust over her.
Kaitlyn let out a whoop of joy over getting away with streaking naked along a busy recreational dirt road through the painted desert. I let her joy settle, then said, “Look down, shishya.”
She did and let out a sharp “Gaaah!” She saw the same thing I did: a person-shaped cloud of red road dust. A cloud with boobs and hips. Kinda nice, I thought.
“Next lesson: stuff can cling to your form, revealing you. There are two ways of dealing with that. One is just to expand your invisibility bubble to cover it. It’s natural material in contact with your body, so you can cover it with some effort. Give it a try.”
She said nothing, but after several seconds, the Kaitlyn-shaped cloud of dust slowly faded away as her expanding bubble eclipsed the dust particles.
“Whew!” she finally said.
“Yeah, it takes a fair bit of effort,” I agreed. “You’ll get stronger at it, able to cover more material in time, but there’s an easier way of dealing with the problem. Have you managed to pick up my whirlwind trick yet?”
“Yeah, I think so,” she said, anxiously. Shortly, a much too large wind whipped up and blew dust all over her again, making her cough and wheeze.
“You’ll need better control. Part of the trick is in moderating the amount of dust, sand, and air you have in the mix. Watch this one carefully; it’s pure air.” And with that, I sent a cleaning wind whirling around her.
The road was quiet now, and I could see Kaitlyn walking about now by her footprints, which were sneaking towards the road, evidently wanting more of that illicit streaking high. I let her go, knowing what was about to happen. She began to giggle a bit, so I waited for a lull, then said once again, “Look down, my shishya.”
Almost instantly she let out a startled shriek, because she’d seen what I’d been seeing for a few seconds now: she was visible. Absolutely starkers, giggling in the middle of a dirt road that was deserted for now…but for how long?
Kaitlyn streaked for real this time, pounding sand back up to the canyon mouth as fast as she could manage with her still-tender feet over the sagebrush and sandstone-speckled ground. I walked sedately after her, as befits a guru, though I suspected most gurus weren’t often treated to such a lovely sight as my Kaitlyn, buttocks flexing, long legs pumping, arms flailing to maintain balance. Aahhhh…
As I walked, I pondered this event. Apparently her small cute nose wasn’t big enough that she noticed its reappearance before her eyes. My big ol’ Indian honker would never escape notice that way.
Using my life sense, I found her back around the first bend in the canyon. Clearly she’d sought concealment from the road, entered a trance, and reestablished her invisibility spell. “I expect you’ve figured out what happened, Kaitlyn.”
“Yes, you asshole!” she fumed. “You tricked me is what happened!”
I chuckled. “Yes, but also…?” I prompted, wanting her to realize the truth on her own, rather than have me deliver it to her on a plate.
I heard a low growl, but then, “The road…it’s not natural. It broke the bubble.”
“You got it,” I agreed. “A rural dirt and gravel road like this one is unnatural enough that it makes magic difficult to do and maintain while standing on it. At your skill level, you couldn’t hang onto the spell, so you lost your grip after a while. Also, you walked right past a metal post with a cat’s eye reflector on it, which probably drained a bit of the spell’s power directly, since you haven’t yet learned to hold a reserve of power and feed the spell from it instead. If this were an asphalt road, you’d have lost your grip on the spell with your first footfall. Remember, remember,” I stressed, “proximity to technological artifacts drains your magic! Yes, you’re right, I saw your footprints walking out there, and I chose to say nothing. It was a good lesson, wasn’t it?”
There was a good five seconds filled only by a steady quiet whish of morning desert breeze, but she ground out a grudging admission, “Yes, guru, it was a good lesson.” Then a burst of laughter came from the place I knew she was sitting, and I saw a poof of sand further back where she’d flopped onto her back in her mirth at almost getting caught. “I was naked! On the road! Hah!”
“Spectacularly so,” I agreed with a grin, though she couldn’t see it. I let her get it out of her system and calm down, then asked, “Ready to get to work?”
Rather than answer, she asked, “So this was the big secret you were holding out on me this morning?”
“Yup,” I agreed.
“So what were you holding back on me yesterday, then?” she demanded.
“That’s even better. I hope to share that one with you very soon,” I replied.
“Arrrrgh! You’re driving me crazy here!” she said, frustrated.
“Think of it like Christmas. You’ll really like the revelation of this gift,” I said.
“Not helping!” she exclaimed.
“Patience, grasshopper,” I chided. “Work time now.”
“I’m getting kind of irritated at this guru and shishya stuff, Davie,” she said, threateningly.
“Yes, it bothers me, too, Kaitlyn. I’m constantly being torn between wanting to give you a good education, to hold up my end, yet I also want to be your lover.” She didn’t respond, so I said it again, “Yes, Kaitlyn, I love you.”
An invisible naked girl swung forward onto all fours, approached the life presence she knew was me, carefully reached out one hand to find my chest, slid it up and around my neck to my cheek, thereby locating my face. Then she came softly into my arms, kissed me, and stood up, pulling me up by the hand with her.
And then we went about it, cleaning up that first canyon mouth in plain sight of the road, naked, with no one the wiser. We were about to finish the job that’d taken us most of two weekends.