Equal Rites
have been a rumor. His fingers drummed a strange tattoo on the bartop.
    At last he swallowed, appeared to reach a decision, turned solemnly to Esk, and said, “Hwarl, ish gnish saaarghs ishghs oorgsh?”
    His brow wrinkled as he ran the sentence past his mind again and made a second attempt.
    “Aargh argh shaah gok?”
    He gave up.
    “Bharrgsh nargh!”
    His wife snorted and took the glass out of his unprotesting hand. She sniffed it. She looked at the barrels, all ten of them. She met his unsteady eye. In a private paradise for two they soundlessly calculated the selling price of six hundred gallons of triple-distilled white mountain peach brandy and ran out of numbers.
    Mrs. Skiller was quicker on the uptake than her husband. She bent down and smiled at Esk, who was too tired to squint back. It wasn’t a particularly good smile, because Mrs. Skiller didn’t get much practice.
    “How did you get here, little girl?” she said, in a voice that suggested gingerbread cottages and the slamming of big stove doors.
    “I got lost from Granny.”
    “And where’s Granny now, dear?” Clang went the oven doors again; it was going to be a tough night for all wanderers in metaphorical forests.
    “Just somewhere, I expect.”
    “Would you like to go to sleep in a big feather bed, all nice and warm?”
    Esk looked at her gratefully, even while vaguely realizing that the woman had a face just like an eager ferret, and nodded.
    You’re right. It’s going to take more than a passing wood-chopper to sort this out.

    Granny, meanwhile, was two streets away. She was also, by the standards of other people, lost. She would not see it like that. She knew where she was, it was just that everywhere else didn’t.
    It has already been mentioned that it is much harder to detect a human mind than, say, the mind of a fox. The human mind, seeing this as some kind of a slur, wants to know why. This is why.
    Animal minds are simple, and therefore sharp. Animals never spend time dividing experience into little bits and speculating about all the bits they’ve missed. The whole panoply of the universe has been neatly expressed to them as things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks. This frees the mind from unnecessary thoughts and gives it a cutting edge where it matters. Your normal animal, in fact, never tries to walk and chew gum at the same time.
    The average human, on the other hand, thinks about all sorts of things around the clock, on all sorts of levels, with interruptions from dozens of biological calendars and time-pieces. There’s thoughts about to be said, and private thoughts, and real thoughts, and thoughts about thoughts, and a whole gamut of subconscious thoughts. To a telepath the human head is a din. It is a railway terminus with all the Tannoys talking at once. It is a complete FM waveband—and some of those stations aren’t reputable, they’re outlawed pirates on forbidden seas who play late-night records with limbic lyrics.
    Granny, trying to locate Esk by mind magic alone, was trying to find a straw in a haystack.
    She was not succeeding, but enough blips of sense reached her through the heterodyne wails of a thousand brains all thinking at once to convince her that the world was, indeed, as silly as she had always believed it was.
    She met Hilta at the corner of the street. She was carrying her broomstick, the better to conduct an aerial search (with great stealth, however; the men of Ohulan were right behind Stay Long Ointment but drew the line at flying women). She was distraught.
    “Not so much as a hint of her,” said Granny.
    “Have you been down to the river? She might have fallen in!”
    “Then she’d have just fallen out again. Anyway, she can swim. I think she’s hiding, drat her.”
    “What are we going to do?”
    Granny gave her a withering look. “Hilta Goatfounder, I’m ashamed of you, acting like a cowin. Do I look worried?”
    Hilta peered at her.
    “You do. A bit. Your

Similar Books

Nurse in Waiting

Jane Arbor

Pebble in the Sky

Isaac Asimov

Death of a Raven

Margaret Duffy

Rowan's Lady

Suzan Tisdale

The Hero of Varay

Rick Shelley