Still available on Amazon.
Cathryn stared at her computer screen. The dictionary hadn’t been pulled off the market.
They knew, right? Pierre knew. But he wasn’t in charge.
But how many people could be buying it? Most people just go online and use the free version – or another dictionary site. Or buy the collegiate one if they want a book. The full Universal was a doorstopper. Too big to be an ox-stunner because you have to be able to swing something to stun an ox with it. And it was… $126.42, discounted price. Who would even spend that?
People with friends having birthdays, that’s who. Given the price, friends they really cared about. Ironically.
Damn, Lily really put money down for a birthday gift. Cathryn started thinking about what to get her for hers… still a half a year away. A gorgeous cookbook, probably.
Provided there was a world left by then.
But seriously, how many people could possibly be getting this?
But how could she and Henry get free of it? She couldn’t just get rid of the license. Well, it was non-transferable anyway. But if the dictionary’s wanton spells got Henry into it, they could get him out of it. Maybe.
Cathryn put the computer to sleep, pushed her chair away, and got up. She was going to have to eat something sometime. Her freezer was, as of this afternoon, full of microwavable dinners, and she wasn’t going to say a damn word about them. But right now she was going to pour a glass of wine and read some more of Karly Presser’s book. And not say a damn word about damn anything.
Her phone rang.
She looked to see who it was.
“Cathryn,” Lily said, sounding stressed, “we’re in such a mess.”
“Careful!” Cathryn said.
“Too late for that. Oh, you won’t believe it. My mother bought the kid a copy of the cursed dictionary.”
“What! Aw, no. Can you return it? Don’t open it! Don’t enter the license key!” Cathryn dropped herself into her reading chair, wineless.
“When I got home, Matt already had. He had it set up on the computer and was looking at it with Hunter.” Matt was her husband. Hunter was her son. Hunter was somewhere-in-the-single-digits years old. Lily’s mother was clearly going Full Grandma here.
“Well, what did you say?”
“I didn’t see what they were looking at! If I had, I never would have said anything! Or I would have said something different!”
Cathryn had a feeling like she had just swallowed a shotput. She didn’t know what to say or ask. But Lily continued: “Matt had some Lawrence Welk on the stereo. I made some reference to schmaltz pouring out the speakers. And then…” A kind of faint retching moaning crept out the phone. “Did you know that schmaltz is rendered chicken fat? I knew that. So I easily identified what was covering our living room floor.”
Cathryn now remembered that Matt had one hell of a home stereo. Multiple speakers, carefully placed, floor and ceiling. “Ugghhhhhh,” she breathed.
“That was a lot of clean-up. Matt’s pretty freaked out about it. But, oh. That’s not… I…”
“What,” Cathryn said quietly.
“I mean, I tried to explain, but how do you explain. And scooping up buckets of schmaltz and scrubbing the carpet. And finally after an hour of this and no supper yet and Hunter puking…”
“Oh shit,” Cathryn whispered with sympathetic dread.
“And Matt threw down his sponge and he said he was… enervated. And then he tried to stand up and he just… ragdolled onto the floor. And he could hardly move.”
Cathryn felt a cold fog run down under her skin. “So…”
Lily was near the sobbing point. “We’re in the hospital. In emerg. Just got here a few minutes ago.”
“I’m coming right now,” Cathryn said, standing up.
“No! No, please don’t. It’s not safe for you. My parents are coming. Matt’s are on their way. Please… just… I just wanted to let you know.”
“Stay strong,” Cathryn said.
Lily was starting to sniffle a little. “I… And do you know what I was thinking in the ambulance on the way here?” She half-sob-laughed. “This is so grim. All I could think was how glad I was no one had said anything about excoriating anyone.” She laughed and sobbed and it came out like hiccups.
“Oh…” Cathryn had a momentary image of someone being flayed alive. She shuddered. “I’ll talk to you soon. I hope everything works out OK.”
“Thanks,” Lily said. “Talk to you soon.” She disconnected.
Cathryn looked around for a moment. Her own apartment seemed the same as it had in the morning, or yesterday evening: visibly unaltered, wood floors no less clean, walls the same distance apart, but a static charge in the semantic spaces, ready to spark and incinerate her and everyone she cared about.
Pierre. Call Pierre.
Her purse was on the kitchen counter. She walked over and reached into it and pulled out the bookmark. On the back it had…
Well, that’s weird.
She saw him write his email and his phone number. But it just had “Pierre von Falk firstname.lastname@example.org” and no phone number. And then beneath that were two more names and emails. One was someone else at Worcester, “Marcy Coachman email@example.com.” But the third one was “Maxim Patryshyn firstname.lastname@example.org.”
This is the part where, when they make this into a movie, they’ll play back a bit of Pierre’s conversation on the phone in Skullbox Espresso. You can flip back a chapter and read it for effect.
Cathryn set the bookmark on top of her purse, filled her wine glass – oops, sip that down a bit so it doesn’t spill – and then took the bookmark and glass over to her desktop computer to compose an email.