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Chapter Five

The bell above the door jingled as I led the way into New You. It was a small place, but every inch of it was being put to use. Shelves stacked on shelves stacked on shelves, with plastic medicine bottles crammed into every nook and cranny they could fit in. I noticed Ethan looking at them with interest as we passed, but the only description they had was a series of tiny labels beneath each row.


"Banshee, centaur, goblin, slime" he read them under his breath. "Leprechaun? Henry, what kind of pharmacy is this?"


"Henry? Did I hear you say Henry?" a high pitched voice squeaked, and a tiny bald head poked up from behind the counter. "Ah, Henry Rider! Welcome, welcome! It has been three months, hasn't it?"


I smiled as he scuttled out to shake my hand. He was a klaon, like me, but his thinning hair was a bright green. The fluorescent lights reflected off the two and a half inch thick glasses that covered his eyes, and his white lab coat dragged on the floor behind him. In fact, all of his clothes seemed to be about four sizes too big for him.


"Hi, Doc," I said, then pointed at my friends. "These are Ethan and Jade. Guys, this is Dr. Elle."


His eyes lit up. "Oh please, call me Jack. These two, are they…new customers, perhaps?"


"Nope, no, no," I nipped that line of thought in the butt. "I'm just here for the usual."


"Ah, young Mr. Conrad, yes." He studied me for a second, his glasses making his eyes look five times bigger than they were. "How is he? Has he been adjusting well?"


"Yeah. Ever since he…" I paused and looked at Ethan from the corner of my eye. "…started taking his medicine, he's been a lot happier. How's Heidi, by the way?"


"As wild and free spirited as ever" Jack said wistfully. "I'm lucky if I can get her to keep the store open instead of running off to…well, anyway, shall we go to the back? You know the procedure."


I nodded and let him lead me behind the counter. Just as we were about to go through the door that led to the back room, though, I glanced back and saw Ethan stepping behind the counter too.


"Why don't you wait out here?" I asked. "I'll just be a few minutes."


He frowned. "But you're not supposed to—"


"Ethan, nothing is going to happen!" I snapped, more angrily than I meant to. "Just hang tight for a minute, and then we can go home."


"Okay, I guess…" He went to stand beside Jade, who was inspecting the bottles on the shelves.


I turned to find Jack looking at me with an eyebrow raised.


"He doesn't need to know," I said softly.


Jack shrugged and led me to the back, where a cushioned dentist's office-style chair waited for us. He waved toward it, and I sat down.


"How has business been?" he asked absentmindedly while fiddling with a shiny machine nearby that was as tall as I was.


"Fine," I lied. If I'd been honest, I'd have had to tell him about Cousin Gumdrop's little visit today, and I didn't feel like crushing him with all that emotional baggage. I needed him alive to make Con's medicine.


"Hold out your arm, please." I did, and he quickly jammed a needle into it. Being a big girl and not a little baby, I didn't even flinch. "Perfect! You can relax now."


A thin plastic tube ran from the needle to the machine Jack had been screwing with before. The machine rattled a bit, and my blood—as blue as the purest sapphire—began to fill the tube.


Fear crawled up my spine, and I shuddered. Images of people began to flash before my eyes. People with clear plastic hoses tied to their faces as they laughed uncontrollably, unable to stop, until they eventually died of sheer exhaustion. It had been two months since I'd discovered the laughter farm, but I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it.


More pictures. Memories that I’d done my best to forget over the past few weeks.


Clown mask!


Glowing talismans!


The terror in Ethan’s eyes when I attacked him!


Each image struck me like a bolt of lightning, and the tremors they sent coursing through my body were the thunder. I took a deep breath, forcing myself to calm down before I worked myself into a panic. It was over. I had survived, I had saved Ethan—and probably all of Mauldibamm too—and killed the masked man. It. Was. Finished.


You know that's not true, the annoyingly sensible voice in my head whispered. You still have no idea who built the farms, or how many more are out there. And you know Legion isn't dead! This is far from—


"Finished!" Jack squeaked, jolting me out of my gloomy thoughts. I blinked in surprise, and saw the last drop of my blood get sucked into the machine. "You looked like you were deep in thought, Henry. Are you all right?"


No. No, I'm not all right.


"What, me?" I asked with a smirk. "Deep in thought? I just fell asleep with my eyes open.”


He didn't look convinced, but luckily he didn't push me. He was a pharmacist, after all. Not a therapist. Instead, he held up a handful of bandaids. "Flowers, sharks, or puppy dogs, Henry?"


"Sharks, definitely!"


While he removed the needle and patched the hole in my arm, the machine began to hum, a thin column of smoke coming from the top. Pipes whistled, gears clanked, and with a wheeze like an asthmatic elephant, it coughed a handful of pills into a little orange plastic bottle that was set in front of it. Each pill was as blue as the blood that had been used to make them.


“And here we have it!” Jack declared, grabbing the bottle and screwing the lid on top before holding it out to me with a satisfied smile on his face. “That should be enough for the next ninety days.”


“Thanks, doc,” I said, taking the bottle. “I appreciate it, and so does Con.”


“All in a day’s work!” He clapped his hands. “Now, shall I ring you up?”


I sighed as I followed him back to the front of the store. Every time I came here, I hoped he would forget that part. Of course, I would feel bad if I left without paying, so I’d probably have reminded him anyway.


Ethan was right where I’d left him, so either he’d fought a small army of bad guys in complete silence and then disposed of their bodies, or absolutely nothing had happened in the five minutes that I’d been back there. He only gave me the quickest of glances when I emerged, and then went straight back to studying the shelves. I bit my lip nervously, but pushed the worry aside. He couldn’t get into any trouble just by looking at them, I suppose.


“That comes out to seven hundred and eighty five dollars,” Jack said, tapping numbers into an old fashioned cash register, “and fifty two cents!”


My gut clenched, but I pulled out my wallet and handed him my card anyway. I could afford it—being the council’s Hunter came with a decent salary—but I could still never shake the feeling that he’d hooked a second IV to my back pocket and was sucking my life savings up through it.


“So, what exactly is all this?”


I jumped and spun around, but it was just Ethan. Apparently, I’d been so heartbroken over my bank account’s sudden case of bulimia that I hadn’t heard him come up behind me. I opened my mouth to tell him not to sneak up on me, but before I could—


“Oh, interested, are you?” Jack asked. I looked at him, and frowned when I saw the way his eyes were twinkling.


“Uh, no,” I stammered. “No he’s just—”


“I’d be happy to explain what we do here at New You to you, young man! I, ah, unfortunately, though, I’m not very good at making sales. I just make the medication, you see.”


“That’s all right!” I tried to move so I was standing in between the two of them, but Ethan shoved me out of the way with a weird look. “We don’t want to bother you or anything.”


“Heidi is the one with all the, ah, social skills.”


“Completely understandable. Have a great day!”


“Henry, what are you doing?” Ethan demanded as I started pushing him toward the door. “Cut it out!”


This was bad, bad, bad. The absolute last thing I needed was for Ethan to get involved in all this. I could still remember the look in his eyes when he’d first discovered magic—a look that was disturbingly similar to the one he had now. I needed to get him out of here before Jack could…


“Hold on just a minute,” said the miniscule doctor. “I’ll get her for you.”


Too late.


I looked back just as Jack pulled a bottle out of his coat pocket, identical to the one he’d just given me. He unscrewed the lid and pulled out a single pill. It wasn’t blue like mine were, but he still popped it into his mouth and swallowed it. At first nothing happened, but suddenly he shivered.


And began to grow.


“Oh, sushi donuts,” I whispered.


It took less than three seconds for the tiny little man to become taller than both me and Ethan. But it didn’t stop there. His skin darkened, going from klaonishly white to humanishly pink. The thinning hair on his head grew back right before my eyes, and soon reached below his shoulders, golden blond now rather than green. His chest swelled, his hips widened. The clothes that had been several sizes too big mere seconds ago now fit perfectly. He reached up and took the glasses from his face and opened his eyes, which were now as blue as ocean water.


“Hey guys,” he—or should I say, she—said. “I’m Heidi.”


Ethan’s jaw hit the floor.

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