Crazy Chimera Lady
Athena’s Story
By Lisa Mason

“It’s now or never,” Thomas says as we breathe the scent of lavender perfuming our garden. “We should adopt another chimera. And soon.”

“Before we get too much older and have to worry about the chimera outliving you and me?” I sip my chilled chardonnay.

“Yes.” My husband contemplates his cabernet sauvignon. Thomas prefers red, I prefer white. In the two-hundred-forty-five chimera years of our marriage, we’ve never had a wine fight. We’ve both come to think about time in chimera years. It has made us feel closer to them. “And so? What do you think?”

Midnight after a productive day. I’ve woven half a tapestry commissioned by a wealthy coder. Thomas has carved a dozen gemstones for a day-trader who, despite her abrasive manners, always pays in full and on time.

“I don’t know.” I sigh. It’s been fifty-six long chimera years since Alana died at the age of a hundred-twenty-six. A good long life for an ivory-wing, a breed not known for longevity. Six chimera years earlier, Luna had died. We didn’t know Luna’s age when we adopted her from the animal shelter, but she was a blue-wing, which is a long-lived breed. She probably had been older than Alana.

After fourteen chimera years, the grief for my girls eventually subsided. Became a distant ache rather than tears streaming down my face while I slept. Now I’m not sure if I can watch another beloved chimera grow from clutchling to full-fledged to oldster and die. Which they do. Usually before we do.

“I’ve loved chimeras since I was a kid,” my husband argues. “My dad always had a clutch of seal-wings in the house. I want a chimera again, Susan, I really do.  Before it would be irresponsible of us to adopt.”

“We’re having this conversation now that we’re four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years old?” I joke. “Not when we were two-hundred-ten?”

“Yes.” Maybe Thomas is in such a serious mood because we’ve just executed our wills, powers of attorney, and all those other unfun documents that force you to contemplate your own mortality. That’s not something you do when you’re two-hundred-ten, either. “Now or never, for the rest of our lives.”

“Never, then,” I whisper.

He chooses to ignore that. “I wish you’d search the Web one more time.”

It’s not as if I haven’t. Though I’ve searched only for another ivory-wing like Alana—golden eyes, plumy white tail, white feathery wings. I’d found such an enchanted creature thirty-five chimera years ago. But she was—as her foster mom honestly admitted—a biter. My seal-wing, Sita, had been a biter. Blue-eyed and beautiful, with fawn-colored wings and paws, Sita had often made my life difficult. I was a university student at the time, then a graduate weaver looking for a husband. She’d left a scar on my left hand.

I couldn’t adopt a biter who looked just like my gentle Alana. That would have been too hard. I had to let that chimera go.

Going on Facebook hasn’t helped. Everyone, it seems, has a beloved domesticated chimera. Everyone posts adorable photos and videos. Chimeras snoozing in the sun. Chimeras leaping in and out of crates. Chimeras flapping happily in aviaries, fetching Frisbees. The big wild chimeras, in zoos and wildlife preserves, have their own photo opps, too. Frolicking with their clutchlings in grasslands. Soaring over mountaintops.

A Facebook friend, a lovely weaver in Australia, started posting photos of the silver-stripe clutchlings she’d rescued from a parking lot in Sidney, and I found myself straying into the pet supplies aisle at Whole Foods. Sure enough, the Whole Paws label offers high-quality canned chimera food and bagged kibbles with a low ash content. No soy, no corn, no grain, no dairy. Just whole ground rabbit fortified with B-6, calcium, and other essential vitamins and minerals.

Rabbits—not fish, fowl, or deer—are a chimera’s food of choice in the wild. Rabbits are the reason farmers domesticated chimeras centuries ago and bred down their size. Which is fine with me. If you think rabbits are cute, you’ve never tried to grow vegetables. There’s nothing cute about ravenous lagomorphs gnawing your carrots and spinach into mulch.

I push back my patio chair, go inside to the computer. “If it’ll make you happy,” I tell Thomas, “I’ll search the Web now.”

“It’ll make me very happy,” my husband says and follows me.

I log on and navigate to the usual websites—Ebay, the Tri-County Society for the Protection of Chimeras, and Purebred Chimeras Rescue. Thomas stands behind my chair, leaning over the screen.

“Oh?” I click on an Ebay listing for a blue-eyed, blue-wing clutchling. “Damn! Her breeder is up in Redding. You must be kidding me.”

“What is that, a four-hour drive from Piedmont?”

“Try five, and that’s just one way. This won’t work. I can’t see ten hours on the freeway to adopt a chimera, no matter how sweet she looks.”

Thomas brings me my glass of wine. “Keep searching.”

Tri-County has hundreds of listings of the usual domesticated chimeras. Though they look appealing and desperately need homes, we can’t find a likely candidate. We’ve both spent our childhoods with seal-wings. For the last chimera we will probably ever own, we want an exotic.

I go to Purebred Chimeras Rescue. The website has three pages of promising exotics, but they’re all males. Ara, our flame-wing who died sixty-three chimera years ago, had been a wonderful male chimera, but he didn’t have that loving maternal instinct which, in my experience, all female chimeras possess. The last chimera we will ever own has to be a female.

Then there she is.

Baby Blue is a nine-month-old clutchling who was surrendered by an ailing, aging breeder to the San Jose SPOC. Purebred Chimeras Rescue took her from San Jose to their headquarters in Davis for registration, then to a vet in Salinas where she was de-wormed, given surgery under anesthetic to spay her, treated for fleas and lice, and given the full battery of vaccinations. From Salinas, PCR took her to Chimera Hill in Santa Cruz for adopting out.

“Born and bred in cages and carrying crates all her life,” Thomas says, “with a history like that.”

“Yes.” I frown. “They’re calling her a blue-wing mix, but look. She looks like a lilac-wing bred with an ivory-wing.”

“They must have named her Baby Blue on account of her eyes.”

Oh, her eyes! Her slanted, almond-shaped eyes are the color of a cloudless summer sky. Her description says she’s shy. Fearful of people. She struggles to escape when a human handles her. Possibly, the description says, she will be a problem chimera. A biter. A clawer. A potential killer.

You see that now and then on the Web. A chimera kills her human.

In the shelter’s four photos, Baby Blue looks shy and fearful and gorgeous. She looks like Luna and Alana miraculously combined into one chimera. A blue-eyed ivory-wing with a lilac face-mask, artistic patches of lilac on her silky white coat, silky white wings, and a plumy lilac tail.

My fingertips hesitate on the keyboard. “What do you think?”

“Fill out the application,” Thomas says. “Do it, Susan.”

“But a problem chimera?”

“She’s young. We can train her.” He adds, “She needs us.”

I feverishly navigate through the website. “You know, it will be a lot of extra work, caring for a chimera again. Just when our businesses are doing so well. Our careers transitioning into Act Two.”

I can picture who will take care of the chimera. Clean her eyes, trim her talons, floss her fangs, brush her coat, comb her wing feathers, feed her rabbit meat, change her drinking water, clean her litter box, take her out into the aviary, toss around chimera toys, ooh and aah.

That will be me.

Thomas looks at me. “I’ll take care of her, too. I promise.”

“It’s till death do us part. When she dies, we’ll be a whole lot closer to our own deaths. Are you prepared for that?”

“Absolutely. I’ll work harder than ever on the gemstones. Please, Susan.”

I click on “Apply.”

The application asks a lot of nosy questions. Are we married? Do we rent or own our home? Do we have children living there? How about other animals? Are we financially secure? What is our estimate of an acceptable veterinarian bill for medical services? Do we have heirs or other arrangements for the chimera if anything happens to us? Do we know how to train a chimera? What is our position on neutering, de-taloning, de-fanging, wing-clipping?

Neutering, yes. Everything else, no.

The application requires that we provide two local personal references and their phone numbers. It’s sobering and saddening to realize that, at four-hundred-thirty-four chimera years old, Thomas and I don’t have a lot of local references. Both my parents were only children; I don’t have aunts or uncles or cousins. Thomas himself is an only child. Friends have died or moved away. We’ve each run our independent businesses for a hundred-seventy-five chimera years, dealt with gallery owners and clients and agents, but don’t have business partners or employees. Thomas’ parents and step-parents died many chimera years ago, as have mine.

Thomas and I are kind of alone.

I understand, I suppose, about the personal references. Purebred Chimeras Rescue is serious about adopting out chimeras to legitimate people. Not to people who would adopt an exotic chimera, then resell her for three times the price. Or de-talon and de-fang and clip her wings. Or sell her to a research laboratory. Or sacrifice her in some satanic ritual.

I shudder to think of it.

We’ve got Stuart as a local reference. Stuart is my tech guy at General Computer Store who replaced the motherboard on my aging Dell. And we’ve got Franklin, a recluse who’s lived in our neighborhood for two-hundred-and-one chimera years. Franklin owns a hundred-forty-year-old blue-eyed blue-wing. This last March, he asked us to feed, water, medicate, and fly her while he went off on his annual hike in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We gladly did.

I electronically sign and send the application to Chimera Hill. “When I was at the university,” I tell Thomas, “I saw an ad for Sita in the Ann Arbor Gazette. I drove to a farm outside of town, handed over ten bucks, and left with my clutchling, fleas and all. No questions asked.”

“It’s a different world,” Thomas agrees.

The next morning a woman emails me. She identifies herself as Gwyneth from Chimera Hill, asks for my phone number and when is a good time to call for an interview.

An interview? Yes. She informs me that twelve other people have applied for Baby Blue. That we shouldn’t be too disappointed if we don’t get her.

“What?” I shout at Thomas. “We finally find a chimera who could be our last and they’re playing games?”

“Send her another email,” Thomas says. “Insist. You’re good at insisting.”

I send Gwyneth another email reiterating how much we want this chimera. I beg and plead. I send the Web address of my weaver’s website, which features two pages of Luna and Alana, two pages of my husband’s carved gemstones, and twenty pages of my award-winning tapestries. A photo of Thomas and me on our wedding day. A photo of me holding Alana in our kitchen. Her furry white arms wrapped lovingly around my shoulders, her plumy white tail curled around my waist, her white wings fluttering. Thomas took it, one of those once-in-a-lifetime photos you cherish forever.

Gwyneth calls exactly at three in the afternoon.

“So you were this hot-shot industrial weaver and you left it all to make art?” she begins. For someone who wants to adopt out a chimera for a hefty fee—two thousand dollars, cash or check, no credit cards—her tone sounds  a bit belligerent.

My story is no secret. I’ve laid out my checkered life on my webpage. “Yep,” I say amiably. “I love the craft of weaving. I just didn’t fit into an industrial setting.”

If she thought that I was going to pull an attitude, apparently she doesn’t think so anymore. “I know exactly what you mean,” she replies. “I’m an architect myself, but I didn’t like dealing with clients. Now I run a boarding facility for chimeras. Go figure.”

“Which is amazing,” I say and mean it. I looked up Chimera Hill on Facebook. Found photos of a clapboard house beneath a giant avocado tree. Gwyneth is expanding the house, constructing aviaries adjacent to the cages so the chimeras can stretch their wings in the sunlight. “Really amazing.”

She gives a little chimera-like trill. Quizzes me about my previous chimeras. Had Sita, the biter, been de-taloned? Yes, she had. Vets did that in those unenlightened days. Now they won’t because it’s cruel.

“Oh, some vets still de-talon,” Gwyneth snaps. “That’s probably why Sita became a biter. Talons are a chimera’s first defense in the wild.”

“That’s a good point. Extract the talons, and the chimera has to resort to her fangs.”

“Exactly.” Gwyneth sounds pleased. “Do you understand about chimera nutrition? You and your husband look like New-Agey types.”

She’s baiting me. “I totally understand. Chimeras are obligate carnivores.” I recently stumbled upon this term in a chimera magazine. I’m happy to trot it out now.

“Obligate carnivores,” Gwyneth echoes as if she’s never heard the term before, either, but will use it to good advantage with some other hapless interviewee in the future. “How do you feel about adopting a female chimera? Some people think they’re inferior to males.”

“Oh, no! We definitely want a female.”

“Okay.” A rustle of papers on her end. ”Just so you know, we’re keeping Baby Blue in a cage with two males. When the vet spayed her two weeks ago, she wasn’t pregnant.”

I don’t like the sound of that. I don’t want our chimera staying in that cage one more night. “I’ll come and get Baby Blue tomorrow.”

“I’ll pencil you in for Saturday.” Gwyneth is paying for the long-distance call but that doesn’t mean she’s allowed to bully me.

“Gwyneth, Saturday is the Fourth of July. Traffic will be hellish up to Santa Cruz. Drunk drivers?”

“Yeah, but tomorrow’s not good.” More rustling of papers. “Our reference checker has to teach class tomorrow. How about Thursday?”

Reference checker? They’re actually going to call Stuart and Franklin? “Thursday, it is. I will be there for my chimera and I will see you then.” I’m not taking no for an answer.

“I’ll email you directions. Is Thomas coming with you?” Her tone turns coy. “His gemstones are beautiful.”

So she has given our website a going-over. How many of the other twelve applicants have a website with two pages of chimera pictures? “Nope. Thomas will be taking the chimera tree out of storage. And the water bowls and food bowls and chimera toys. And staking up the aviary in the backyard. Our new chimera will be the heiress to the bounty of our chimeras past.”

“Wonderful,” she trills. “But I do hope Thomas will come. I’d love to meet him. He’s really cute.”

I smile. “Yes, he is.”

*   *   *

Chimeras have acute hearing. They are highly sensitive to sounds. Scientists have long suspected, but not definitively proven, that chimeras are also keenly attuned to human thoughts.

It has long been circulated in chimera-fanciers’ circles that properly naming your chimera—the sound and the significance of the name—can mean the difference between a problem chimera, a biter or a clawer or worse, and a loving, human-bonded chimera.

Thomas and I had taken turns naming our chimeras. I’d named my college seal-wing Sita from the heroine in the epic Hindu poem, The Ramayana. My childhood chimera had been a regal blue-eyed seal-wing named Rama, the hero of the same poem, a name my mother had carefully chosen.

Thomas inherited Sita when we married so he didn’t participate in her naming. But twenty-one chimera years later, he was placing a display of his carved gemstones in a Pacific Heights shop when a woman walked in with a homemade crate. It was the autumnal equinox, a drizzly evening. In the crate crouched a very scared flame-wing clutchling with bright turquoise eyes. The woman, Marilyn, was desperate to adopt the chimera out and told Thomas, “Pretty girl chimera, fifteen dollars?”

He bought the chimera on the spot. Called me at my industrial loom. “You won’t believe what just happened,” he said in a voice filled with so much joy, I thought he’d won the lottery.

He brought the chimera home to our apartment on Telegraph Hill. When we put the chimera in the bathtub with warm water and a bar of flea soap, we discovered the chimera was not as advertised.

“He’s got balls,” Thomas observed.

“That’s not a girl,” I concurred.

I thought Sita was going to kill that little male chimera. But she took him under her wing, he grew to twice her size, and he became her best friend and faithful companion during the long hours both of us were working away from home.

Since I’d named Sita, Thomas wanted to name the male chimera. And since we’d adopted him on the autumnal equinox, Thomas consulted our astronomy books. He named him Ara for a constellation in the southern hemisphere. The name suited his creamy golden fur and white wings striped with bright golden feathers.

When I won the grand prize in a weaving competition, we moved from San Francisco. It was difficult keeping two chimeras in an urban apartment without letting them fly outside. We relocated to the East Bay where we bought a Mediterranean house. There, at a hundred-nineteen chimera years, Sita quietly died. I quit the industrial weaver to set up my own loom at home and I missed having a girl chimera around. Ara was depressed.

I told Thomas, “We’ve got to adopt a female.”

We wound up adopting two. Newspaper ads brought us to the East Bay Society for the Protection of Chimeras, a facility on Hegenberger Road out by the airport. Thomas named the ivory-wing Alana, which means “darling” in Gaelic. I named the blue-wing Luna because she was, with her blue wings, blue paws, and big blue eyes, indisputably a Luna.

Now it is Thomas’ turn to name our new chimera.

*   *   *

Thursday morning we both pull ourselves out of bed two hours early. Restless and edgy. We haul the Sherpa carrying crate out of the basement, wash and dry the fluffy blanket on the bottom. We bought the Sherpa for Alana after she’d bloodied her pink nose trying to bite her way out of a conventional crate with metal bars on the door. The Sherpa is constructed of a tough mesh—no metal bars—and is open on all sides so the chimera can look out.

I dress in ivory-colored jeans and a matching jeans jacket, a lilac T-shirt, and an eight-carat amethyst at my throat. Chimeras are also sensitive to color. If you know the colors of the chimera you’re about to adopt, it’s a good idea to dress in those colors for your first meeting.

I study a road map and Gwyneth’s emailed directions. Since I’ve been weaving at home for a hundred-seventy-five chimera years and we can walk to everything in our neighborhood, I seldom drive anymore. Let alone on freeways. I’m so nervous, my hands are shaking. I can’t even drink a cup of coffee.

“Her name,” I tell Thomas. “We’ve got to decide.”

Baby Blue is an acceptable chimera name, but reminds us too much of the Bob Dylan tune, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” We don’t like the negativity. Maybe that’s why the chimera has behavioral issues. Thomas pores over our mythology books. I take out the name books. I suggest Aurora, which means “dawn,” Paloma, which means “dove,” Anastasia, which means “she who is reborn.”

Thomas chooses Athena, the goddess of civilization, of the arts and crafts. Athena is the goddess, with her staff and scroll, on the Great Seal of the State of California. Athena has a beautiful sound. Has significance.

Athena, it is.

Thomas carries the crate to the garage. He opens the passenger door to the van, pushes back the passenger seat, sets and straps the crate inside.

I buckle into the driver’s seat and I’m off. I pull out of the driveway. Our reclusive neighbor whose blue-wing we chimera-sat approaches the van in his usual skinny jogging clothes, an unusual smile on his face. I power the window down.

“You’re adopting a clutchling!”

“I’m on my way to Santa Cruz right now.” I pause. “Sorry to impose on you, Franklin.”

“Oh, no problem.” Franklin actually beams. “Chimera Hill had a private investigator call me. Believe me, I made you guys look good.”

Private investigator? Never mind. “We really, really thank you.”

“Any time.” He waves goodbye, strides off to his house. This is the longest, friendliest, most involved conversation I’ve had with Franklin in two-hundred-ten chimera years.

I head for Interstate 880.

*  *  *

Santa Cruz is seventy-five miles south of Piedmont. I give myself an hour and a half. Heavy traffic on 880 travels at the speed limit, then I take the turn-off onto Route 17.

Route 17 is the only way you can drive to the coastal town of Santa Cruz. The four-lane highway winds up and up and up through the Santa Cruz Mountains and is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m glad I had the oil and coolant checked when I topped off the tank yesterday. Half a dozen cars have pulled over on the shoulder, hoods propped up to cool over-heated engines.

Route 17 abruptly spills out into downtown Santa Cruz. I turn right at the second light, drive past a truck dealership, turn left on Lake Street. Drive up the hill and into the driveway of Number 365. There’s no sign announcing “Chimera Hill.” From the hard, suspicious eyes of the men in the truck dealership, I can understand why.

For every ten chimera-lovers, there is likely to be one chimera-hater. The haters can’t tolerate chimeras’ independence, their aloofness, their beauty, their sensuality. Their supernatural grace. Their sensitivity to sound, their uncanny understanding of humans’ unspoken thoughts. The haters want an obedient animal. An obvious animal. A trainable animal like a dragon.

I forcibly push from my memory the stories I’ve heard of human cruelty toward chimeras.

I park beneath the avocado tree, unstrap the carrying crate, and take it out. I lug the crate to the front door, press the doorbell. I can’t hear a chime inside. I press the button again.

The door flips open. “Anxious, are we?” says Gwyneth and ushers me inside. “Where’s Thomas?”

“Thomas is setting up our aviary in the backyard.”

“Oh, that’s right. Too bad. He’s so cute.”

I look around. The foyer is a shrine to the image of chimera. Posters and photos and line drawings. Mobiles and macramé plant hangers and pot holders. Dolls and puppets and statuettes. A huge fat black chimera—a live one—with cynical yellow eyes and black wings strolls over and sniffs my boots. Looks up at me and roars.

“That’s Fred,” Gwyneth says. “He works here. Come on in.”

I carry the crate into an office with a sturdy desk, computers, file cabinets, and a floor-to-ceiling shelf neatly filled with hundreds of cans of chimera food. A ten-gallon tub holds kibbles. A kitchen countertop and sink line the back wall, along with a GE fridge. A woman sits at the desk, typing. Another woman stands at the sink, sipping from a coffee cup. A third woman waits at a door with a frosted glass pane, as if standing guard. All three women wear the heavy suede long-sleeved shirts of chimera-handlers, heavy suede gloves, jeans, and thick knee-boots.

I hear the muffled roaring of chimeras behind the glass-paned door.

The woman at the desk looks up. Says wistfully, “Ah, Baby Blue. She’ll never be a lap chimera, but she’ll be all right.”

“Such a big heart,” the woman at the sink says. “Such a lovely life force.”

“We’re very glad you want to adopt her,” the woman at the glass door says.

I try not to read any sinister meaning in their comments. Set the crate down. I take out an envelope with the cash fee, hand it to Gwyneth. “That’s for you.”

She deliberately places the envelope on the desk, unopened. “First, let’s go meet Baby Blue.”

She speaks with a lisp I hadn’t noticed on the phone. Freckles dapple her face like the coat of a bengal-wing. Her curly auburn hair looks newly coiffed. She wears gold chimera earrings, a sleeveless black shift with a white chimera-print billowing over her belly. Her meaty arms are surprisingly well-muscled. She wears a gold chimera ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. Her long, manicured fingernails are polished hot pink. I can’t help but notice the top joint of her left little finger is missing. She’s shod her feet in low-heeled, black leather ankle boots. Her prosthetic Cheetah leg, her left leg, is bare beneath the shift.

It occurs to me she’s dressed up for me. Or maybe for Thomas.

She opens the glass-paned door and I step into a hall perhaps a quarter mile long lined on both sides with cages. Each cage, about the size of a walk-in master closet, has a floor-to-ceiling scratching post, nesting platforms at intervals up to the ten-foot ceiling, a bench and cushions below, food and water bowls, and a litter box. Torches light the hall with hospital-bright illumination. A spotless white linoleum floor reflects the glare. Architectural touches abound, clever little windows overlooking bird feeders outside and interior spaces with visual interest.

Each cage is inhabited by a chimera, sometimes two. I’ve never seen so many exotics in one place outside of a chimera show. Blue-wings, seal-wings, flame-wings, ivory-wings, silver stripes, golden stripes. Hundreds of jewel-bright eyes turn to me, shades of blue, orange, golden, and gimlet green.

As spacious and well-furnished as the cages are, far larger and more luxurious than the cages at the SPOC, a cage is still a cage. Chimeras despise confinement. Hundreds of eyes and raucous roars plead, “Let me out, let me out, let me out!”

Gwyneth hands me a stick with a plush-toy rabbit dangling off the end. Casually picks up a cattle prod, a shepherd’s crook, a stun gun, and a whip. She says with a wry smile, “Go and find her, honey.” She has a way of speaking to me without actually looking at me. For a moment, I wonder if she’s cross-eyed.

We walk down the hall. Gwyneth rattles off the names of every chimera. “That’s Raja, Joaquin, Sunny, Timothy, Whiska, Munchie, Harry, Pookster, Tiny, Sanchez, Pharaoh.”

I peer in the cages to the left and to the right. Some chimeras are curled up and sleeping on their nesting platforms. Others stretch their paws through the bars of the cages and bat at me, talons unsheathed. But I don’t see Baby Blue. I walk to the very end of the hall, examine the last cage to my right.

Then there she is.

That lilac face-mask, pink nose, slanted blue eyes. Her eyes meet mine the moment I see her. Meet and hold. I feel the same way I felt when I met Alana’s golden gaze from across the crowded habitat at the SPOC. Lightheaded. Flushed. Destined.

“There she is!” I reach through the cage bars, heedless of any danger.

Gwyneth unlatches the lock, swings the door open. “Go on in, honey.”

I step inside, sit on the bench. Whisper, “Are you my chimera?”

Baby Blue trills, bumps her head on my shoulder. She kneads her paws on my thighs in that mommy milk-dance clutchlings do, digging her talons in my jeans hard enough to draw blood.

“Problem chimera?” Gwyneth laughs. “Well, we’re happy to be wrong. Gloria,” she calls, “bring me the camera, honey. This is a Facebook moment.”

Gloria trots in and hands Gwyneth a camera and a file folder.

“You’re both so photogenic,” Gwyneth says, and shows me the digital picture.

A huge male flame-wing lazes on the nesting platform above me. Gwyneth reaches up with the shepherd’s crook and yanks his neck. He flaps out of the cage with a hiss. A second flame-wing with haughty sapphire eyes rouses himself from another nesting platform, blinks at the open door, and thumps down, scampering into the hall.

Gwyneth lashes the whip at the sapphire-eyed flame-wing, and he swipes at her and roars, fangs bared. I sit in the cage, stroking Baby Blue, semi-paralyzed with fear. Gwyneth leaves the cage door open and says, “Come with me, honey. We’ve got some things to go over.”

Baby Blue winds around my legs as I dutifully trail after Gwyneth back down the hall. She reads aloud three pages of information about my chimera. All the examinations and vaccinations she’s been given, her spaying and the anesthetic used, the antibiotic applied to her watery right eye. Then Gwyneth reads three more pages of legal disclosures, terms and conditions to which I must officially agree. No de-taloning, no de-fanging, no wing-clipping. No reselling for a profit or to a laboratory. Till death do us part.

While she drones on, I dangle the rabbit-on-a-stick and my chimera stands up full length on her hind legs, batting at it. She has startling spots of purple on her wrists and thighs. Thomas will be thrilled.

Gwyneth hands me a pen, I sign and date the contract, and she does the same. She tears off the top sheet and keeps it, slips the copy and the medical records in the folder, and hands everything to me.

“Gloria, honey,” she calls again, “you and Sharon need to come and give Baby Blue her last vaccination. It’s a two-person job,” she tells me with a tight smile.

Gloria and Sharon stride purposefully into the hall, seize my chimera, and carry her off to a clinic at the end of the hall. My chimera kicks and bites and screams. I suddenly understand why she doesn’t like to be handled. She’s learned that bad things happen to her when a human intervenes.

I turn, and the two huge flame-wings are stalking down the hall, wiggling their butts the way chimeras do when they’re after prey. Heading for me and Gwyneth with icy predators’ eyes. The rest of the chimeras are roaring and snarling, swiping paws with talons unsheathed through the bars of their cages.

“Get behind me, honey,” Gwyneth says.

I don’t get behind her, I cower. I glance around for a weapon, find a cattle prod. Better than nothing. I grip the prod in my fist.

“Hey, hey, ho!” Gwyneth shouts, snapping her whip, the stun gun gripped in her fist. As she edges down the hall, she limps on the prosthetic Cheetah leg. “Reginald, Leonardo, get back in your cage.” Little by little, she drives the flame-wings down the hall, clangs the cage door shut, latches the lock. Reginald snaps at her wrist, drawing blood.

Gwyneth turns to me, smiling. “You can take the chimera out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the chimera.”

“No kidding.” I show her the scar on my left hand.

“Why do you suppose,” I say, my voice a little shaky, “we humans want to keep creatures with one paw in the jungle in our homes?”

Gwyneth shrugs, sucks blood off her wrist. “Puts us in touch with some deep primeval need to nurture. To tame. To love unconditionally.”

“That’s love,” I say.

I take one last look at the gorgeous chimeras.

They roar at me, pleading, “Take me home, take me home, take me home!”

“We’re done here, honey.” Gwyneth lets me through the glass door into the office.

Gloria has taken the cash out of the envelope, proudly displays it on the desk. She and Sharon have wrestled my chimera into my carrying crate.

“Came in a plywood crate,” Sharon says approvingly, “leaving in a Sherpa. Nice.”

Fred strolls by and looks in, and Baby Blue gives him an outraged hiss.

“Wait, honey,” Gwyneth says, “I’ll give you some food to get her started.” She scoops kibbles from the bin into a zip-lock bag, writes the brand on a slip of paper.

I tuck the bag and the file folder in the storage pouch on the crate. I take her hands, gaze into her eyes. “Thank you for everything, Gwyneth.”

She isn’t cross-eyed, after all. She has beautiful emerald-green eyes like a silver-stripe. Eyes that hold a feral gleam. A passion. An obsession. “Here’s to our love of chimeras,” she says and squeezes my hands. “Come, I’ll help you to your van.”

Together we carry the crate outside. She holds the door open while I strap it into the front passenger seat. I shut the door, climb into the driver’s seat, power down the windows. The sun has risen to high noon since I’ve entered Chimera Hill. The air in my van is like the inside of an oven. I peel off my jacket.

“Have you got a towel to cover the crate?” she asks anxiously. “Chimeras don’t like strange sights. Close the windows when you go, honey, and turn on the air-conditioner. Chimeras don’t like strange smells.” She runs inside and out again with a frayed white towel, which she lays over the top of the crate. “Call Thomas and tell him to put her litter box and water bowl in a bathroom. You should keep her confined for a week until she feels safe. Chimeras need to feel safe.”

“Okay, Gwyneth. Bye-bye, Gwyneth.” I start the engine and my chimera starts roaring. That she’s in a luxury Sherpa crate doesn’t help. She desperately thrashes around and beats her wings.

My chimera screams her lungs out on the crawl-and-go down treacherous Route 17 from Santa Cruz. The fear and panic in her voice are hard to listen to. I hunch over the steering wheel, concentrating with every fiber of my being on staying alive and keeping the van safe. I sing “Hush, little baby, don’t you cry,” till I’m hoarse. The van is sweltering in spite of the air conditioning. Sweat pours down my face, stinging my eyes. My chimera pants in between roars, her pink tongue curling out from between her fangs.

Accidents litter the road—car hoods crumpled in half, jackknifed trucks, ambulance attendants loading bloodied people on gurneys. I remember the days when freeways were fast and fun. This is a nightmare.

After two and a half hours, I approach the exit to Piedmont. I’m so relieved, tears stream from my eyes. My chimera calms down. I pull into our driveway and Thomas strides out. He unstraps the crate, pulls it from the van. Together we carry the chimera inside.

“Gwyneth says we should confine her in a bathroom, but I don’t want to do that. Not after what she’s been through.”

“Absolutely not,” says Thomas and opens the crate. “Welcome home.”

The chimera climbs out. Her baby blue eyes meet mine, then she meets Thomas’ eyes. We open every door and she explores our whole house from the basement to the second floor, telling us the story of her life. She gallops down the halls, checks out our bedroom and the library, finds her food and water bowls, finds her litter box. She discovers the chimera door in the kitchen leading out to her aviary and flies back and forth, roaring with her new freedom.

“She’s gorgeous,” Thomas says. “You did good, Susan. I love her. And you.”

“I never want to drive on Route 17 again. I never want to drive on freeways again.”

“Go relax in the living room. I’ll pour you a glass of chardonnay.”

I kick off my boots, change my sweaty T-shirt and jeans for something clean. I pad bare-footed to the living room. Collapse on the couch.

The chimera leaps up beside me, sits warily on the cushions. Tail twitching. Talons unsheathed. Predator’s eyes glinting. A growl in her throat. Lips pulled back. Fangs bared.

Thomas sets down the wine glass. Grabs the whip, the cattle prod, the stun gun. But he waits.

The landline on the side table rings.

“I just wanted to make sure you and Baby Blue made it safely home, honey,” Gwyneth says on the phone. “The radio says there are accidents on 880 all the way from San Jose to Oakland.”

“We made it. Oh, and Gwyneth? We’re naming her Athena. You know, like the goddess of civilization?”

“That’s a beautiful name. It suits her. She’ll love it.” Gwyneth sighs. “It was meant to be.”

“Yep, that’s the bond of destiny.”

I turn to the chimera crouched beside me and whisper her name. The significant name. The special name we’ve chosen just for her. “Are you Athena?”

Fluttering her lilac wings, Athena climbs onto my lap and trills.


Copyright 2017 by Lisa Mason.
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From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book). On BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. On Kindle in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, India, Mexico, and Netherlands. BACK IN PRINT at https://www.createspace.com/7257603 or on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Love-Travel-Lisa-Mason/dp/1548106119/

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