The flat sound of his voice stopped him. What was he going to say next? He’d have to buy drinks for every officer in the mess if he asked if he was dead. Besides, he couldn’t feel the transmit button under his finger, so no one would hear him. Now he thought about it, he couldn’t feel anything in his hands. Just something under his back. And someone patting his chest. Someone who breathed heavily.
He groaned. The last thing he remembered was cannon shells from a Messerschmitt he hadn’t even seen, tearing his Spitfire apart around him. He must have bailed out. He’d been over France when he was shot
down, so whoever was patting him was probably a German taking him prisoner. Damn.
The hands fumbled along his belt. He opened his eyes to a sky heavy with mist, and saw that he was lying on the bank of a still, dark river. This wasn’t a hospital, and the hands belonged to a wizened old man whose loincloth didn’t look like it was issued by a Wehrmacht quartermaster.
The old man gave a satisfied grunt and undid Pongo’s belt buckle. Pongo remembered the gold coins sewn into it, standard issue for operations over occupied territory.
He sat up sharply. “Hey! Stop that! Arrètez-vous!”
The old man scuttled backward.
“You – you old,” Pongo stifled the word that sprang to his lips. He’d never be able to look the vicar in the eye if he swore at an old man.
A deep growl in his right ear filled Pongo’s nostrils with the smell of recently eaten meat. Pongo’s shoulders tensed. He’d never been fond of dogs, and that didn’t sound like a small one.
He turned toward the growl. He found himself looking into the jaws of a dog the size of a carthorse with a set of teeth that would make a tiger envious. What made Pongo leap to his feet were the two other identical heads attached to the same body.
Pongo looked around to see if the old man had any idea how to cope with the monster, but he was paying no attention to the dog. He was haranguing Pongo in a language that sounded vaguely familiar, but wasn’t French or German.
The man said something that sounded less guttural, and Pongo thought he caught a word, ‘aurum‘. Then another one: ‘doné‘. A memory of school surfaced, in which he was bent over Old Cribb’s desk with his trousers around his ankles, answering Old Cribb’s questions in that same language and making sure he got it right because the cane wasn’t slow to point out any mistakes. The language was Latin, and the more guttural language had been ancient Greek. So he wasn’t in France. He was dead after all, and Cerberus the hellhound was going to have some more meat to foul his breath if Pongo didn’t pay the ferryman.
He found his pocket knife, cut through the seam of his belt, and handed the old man a coin. The dog stopped growling, but the string of saliva that fell from the middle mouth didn’t look friendly.
The old man was frowning at the coin. “This coin is not Greek or Roman,” he said, still in Latin.
Pongo blessed Old Cribb, cane and all, when he understood. “It’s a coin of Britannia.”
“Then the price is two coins.”
Perchance to Dream was published in the Triangulations: Dark Glass anthology, December 2012. It has since been republished by Digital Fiction pub in the Casual Conjurings anthology and as a standalone.
Cover by Manda Benson.