“You should listen to him.”
Jim glanced at the lizard, who was perched on top of the black panther’s head.
“He’s smarter than you think,” the lizard added. The panther whuffed in agreement.
“I don’t doubt that,” Jim replied, stirring the coals of the fire.
“What do you doubt, then?”
Jim sighed. It was bad enough that he’d been seeing the panther all day. Now the damned thing was talking to him.
Well. The lizard was. The panther was just punctuating.
“You doubt his commitment,” the lizard said.
“Look, Sandburg’s a great guy, it’s just….”
The lizard blinked at him, pink tongue sliding out to lick its scaly mouth.
“…he hasn’t got any skin in the game.”
The lizard looked over at Sandburg, asleep on the ground on the other side of the fire. “He’s here, isn’t he? Despite your efforts to convince him otherwise.”
Sandburg muttered something and rolled over.
“What are you afraid of?” the lizard asked.
Jim sighed and poked at the fire some more. “I’m just the flavor of the week,” he said, finally. “A pretty co-ed, a new expedition, some other poor fucked-up bastard with weird sensory experiences… and he’ll be gone.”
“A new expedition?”
He took a swig from his canteen, fighting the ache in his throat. “He’s going to Borneo,” he said.
The panther whuffed again.
“I agree with Bagheera here,” the lizard said. “I think you’re underestimating him.”
“He should go. He’s going to get more out of Borneo than out of following some broken-down cop who can’t even say thanks for the help.”
Jim didn’t know how a creature with vertical slits for pupils could roll its eyes, but somehow the lizard did. “Self-deprecation don’t suit you, you know.”
“Yeah, I’ll remember that,” he snapped. “Why don’t you and whats-his-face here do something useful, like help me get my senses back so I can find Simon and Daryl?”
“Oh, now you want them back? I thought you wanted to drop the scientific stuff? ‘Let it go, Sandburg’, wasn’t that what you said?”
Silence. The lizard watched him thoughtfully.
Time to change the subject. “How come he doesn’t say anything?” he asked, motioning at the panther.
“Oh, he will.”
The panther crept forward on his belly until his chin was resting on Jim’s knee. He closed his eyes, and Jim heard a deep rumble, rising and falling like a wave, felt vibration through the muscles in his leg. The damn thing was purring!
The lizard leaped from the panther’s head and clambered up Jim’s arm to his shoulder. “Can’t stay on him when he does that,” the lizard said. “It’s like Magic Fingers, puts me right to sleep.”
Jim shook his head.
“You’ll have some decisions to make, soon,” the lizard said. “Big ones. Just keep an open mind. And an open heart.”
“His feelings run deep. More than you know. More than he knows, too, right now.”
“How do you know that?” His head was starting to pound.
“I’ve had a peek at what’s coming. You need him, but he needs you, too. Or he will.”
Jim rubbed his temples. God, he hated this spirit stuff. “What do you mean?”
“Sorry, can’t mess with the future.” The lizard climbed down his arm, then looked back at Jim. “Oh, and don’t forget, I’ve seen what’s down his pants. Trust me, you’re going to want a piece of that.”
With a soft pop, both lizard and panther disappeared. Jim thought he could hear the faintest echo of a purr, dissipating on the evening air like smoke.
Fuck my life, he thought. First panthers, then talking lizards, and now I can’t stop thinking about what’s in Sandburg’s pants. He flopped down to the ground next to the dying embers of the campfire and willed himself to fall asleep.