Archive for the ‘ Chapter 07 – Closer ’ Category

(129) The Life of a Dying Poet

a letter left on E’s table

E, if you are reading this, I am gone.

I cannot say that I am dead. Dead… death is a thing that I no longer understand. If anyone can understand death. I thought I knew things, but knowing something only shows how ignorant you really are. I am gone from mortal worlds and cannot come back, like the others before me, “True and Bedlam both.”

It is a thing they say. I thought it a Small Thing. A thing they said, but I did not understand at the time. How does one take risks when they truly understand them? One doesn’t – we jump over the edge only because in our heart of hearts we know there is a heaven, an escape, a possibility of surviving on the other side. A success. A way to take a second leap to cross the abyss. We are not born to be heroes. It is only a thing of accident. A moment of choice.

And what is a name? Tom, Tommy, Thomas, Tomas, Tam, Tomkin, Tomaso. It means, “Twin.” Twins are Small Things. Little (hah!) did I know.

I know you will get this. It is a Small Thing, and the King is, well, you will see. I have been given many Small Things, and I only learn now that that is a big thing in the end. Oh, my friend, they will need you. They could not ask a wizard. A wizard is a very large thing, in many places at once. You are you, and you keep all those doors closed. It is a big thing, but it is a Small Thing if it is one door at a time.

Words. I have so many. I always did, spilling out and discarded, careless for less care or value. Do not play with words, but they love wordplay. Do not make promises, for they are unto Yoda.

A Small Thing, Yoda.

You begin to see. I am not meandering (wandering, to be lost but more exploring the path at a slower pace) but trying to remember everything I need to tell you before I cannot, anymore.

I called you my friend. Friends are not Small Things.

Do you remember the night we met? I had left Adelinda’s. She had told me the story about Jasper, the snake guardian. Her stories were small gifts, especially as I gathered them to try to find larger answers. My knowledge, after all, was a Small Thing. The Wyrm Queens, they have dwindled. Have become Small.

I had gone to the meet in hopes of doing exactly that. Go home with a little coven cutie, as I often did. You were mooning after that witch, whose name you always used in Diminuitive. (Is that an important point? You tell me.) You invited me to sit at your table, and we talked Star Wars until the Wee (again!) hours.

The girl I was with told me what it is you did. I didn’t understand it at first. Were you a doctor who tried to explain teleportation? (No, you said you were convinced by Niven.) Did you make a portal healthy? Secure doorways between the worlds? What harm in the occasional sacrifice of a lost traveller? Wasn’t that the hazard of walking the road we did? The thing that made us better than them?

You disagreed, the second time we met. I had taken your anger to be misplaced, an unsubtle envy maybe of the powers greater than yours that surrounded you. Even I could learn your trick, close a door. Closing, after all, is much easier than opening.

You continued to talk. I found myself listening.

The third time (the charm!) we spoke about the fey.

I had been reading poetry. Daft creatures, poets, you exclaimed. I pointed out that chants and spells and prayers were often poems and you laughed, saying they were not any less daft for it. I agreed, and we compared our favourites. I had my heart set on Yeats, and white birds, Minnaloushe and his changing moon. You had Silverstein, Valente, and Dr. Seuss, and I first took you as mocking me.

I told you what Little I knew. You listened, but did not seem concerned. Ruts are made from those drawn to fairylands and NeverAethers and beyonds from shadows and beneath bridges – they follow the call, or fall the fall. I spoke of rules, of boundaries, and you smiled, because, like me, you knew.

Then on the eighth time we met, you came with me to the eight corners of Monaco while a large troll sniffed you and drafted me into a Little disagreement. And my arms ache and my fingers are sore, and I think the cow was not meant to be sold.

There are big waves, a big focus, a big push. I am careful not to say too Little and yet there are things binding me that press back every time I dance near them, as if we are courting the same girl at the Masquerade Ball and we shove up against each other but neither dares to cut in. A geasa is no good for the gander.

They will deal with you in good faith. Remember where the best of intentions lead, for that is the road I travel. A soul is not a Little thing, nor is love, ever, a petty token. They are fascinated by love. Love more than music, or poetry, or any art, is a passion they desire because it changes one. It changes puppets to real boys. It transforms monsters into Princes. It makes one want to be better, to be the person they see in the one who loves them’s eyes. Even friendship, true friendship (mad friendship?) touches upon this.

They tell you not to sweat the Small stuff. I disagree.

I implore you: Do not follow. But you may lead where I have gone.

And give my regards to the King. He is a good King, for all that he is not a good man.

– Thomas

(130) The Arms of the Lady

I am always amused about the little steps we train ourselves to take. There are muscle memories we reinforce, and, well, I once heard a speaker explain that every cell in our body had its own memory. (My favourite Niven story is “The Fourth Profession,” so I’m aware of the RNA idea.) I didn’t quite believe her at the time, but as I put my keys down in the cup (it’s a ceramic octopus) by the door, I nearly laughed aloud because, well, it wasn’t like this was an ordinary situation. I would normally shuffle out of my pants right now, too, but that particular phase I was able to skip.

“E!” I was suddenly caught up in a hug that crushed my breathing apparatus. Um, I mean to say my lungs and ribs and all of that thoracic stuff. I hadn’t been suddenly replaced by an alien. Brain tired words hard synapse take strange route.

You know what I mean.

I extricated myself carefully (without bringing in anything like the Jaws of Life) from Rohana’s glomp. I tried to get the oxygenation process restarted with the minimum of grunts and coughing.

I referred to the open door with a wave of my left hand in its general direction.

“Grapevine had it you were in bad straits. But I knew you’d come back here, and well,” she kissed me.

Wow, did she kiss me.

I know I was addled and my brain wasn’t receiving correctly, but I was pretty sure that was a kiss that was measured on the Richter scale. Someone in Boulder was watching a little needle bounce because of it. Stars exploded somewhere near the core of the universe. I hadn’t been kissed like that since…

…I couldn’t remember if I ever had been kissed like that. I remember her hands were at my neck and my hair and she was pulling herself up against me (she is a bit shorter than me) and soft and words start to go away. Bye-bye, words. Nice knowing you.

I was still trying to remember basic math skills to see if I was about to pass out (I had forgotten my name, where I was, how to talk… all those pertinent details, but I remembered something about an equation where breathing was involved) when it ended.

“Was that a real King of something big out there?” she asked me, kind of pressed against my chest. “He said he was. Then he laughed fire.”

“Uh-huh,” I managed. I felt my arms wrap around her, as if they fit there. They did, I noted. It felt nice.

“Was he a Dragon?” she asked, very, very quietly.

“Uh-huh.” I took a deep breath. “Are you?”

She laughed and pulled away a little, one of her arms snaking around my waist as I slid my right hand away to give her space. “No, no, no. I don’t even really give myself a title. Maggie calls me a healer, but I’ve got very little, you know, talent. I’m learning. A little reiki here. I try to make people feel better.”

I smiled.

She put a finger on my lips. “I know what you’re thinking.” She rolled her eyes.

“Oh, telepathic, too?” I grinned. I shut the door with a kick.

“The best thing about it, is that it’s the same thing I’m thinking,” she said, and she pulled me in the direction of the bedroom.

“But Brain, where are we going to find a dozen cans of whipped yak cream and a sponge?” I mock-protested. It might not have been the best example, and certainly non-canonical to the show, but it worked. At least she giggled.

I would be lying if I said it was the most amazing sexual experience of my life. I would also be lying if I said it wasn’t perfect. It was just what I needed, exhausted, drained, and then, somehow less so. It was as if I was made more, made whole, you know, healed. Giving and taking in equal consideration, and different enough from the almost angry sex Maggie and I had been having towards the end… too much to process then. Then I was told to, “Stop thinking,” a few times, and, “Enjoy.”

Yes, ma’am.

There were funny moments. I had no idea where I had put the condoms, and after some awkward drawer opening and excavations with one hand, she had some in her pack. She kicked me in the ribs once, I nearly backhanded her getting twisted up in the top sheet.

I hoped I didn’t look smug or desperate, as either would have been criminal. I know we both smiled a lot.

She fell asleep after setting a combination of alarms on a variety of devices. “It’s kind of my thing,” she explained. “I can’t sleep until I do it, and I won’t wake up if I don’t,” she grinned. Then she kissed me on the forehead. “You, sleep.”

I did. I don’t think I had any dreams.

When I woke up, she was still there. I reached out and touched her arm. She grabbed my hand and held it to her, like it was some kind of teddy bear. I took it as an invitation to move closer, and fell back asleep.

When I woke up a second time, she was gone. I hadn’t heard the alarms, but I smelled a faint hint of shampoo still in the air. A towel was spread over the back of one of the chairs in the living room, almost like a caress. I don’t know, maybe I was feeling super-sentimental. It was all sweet and soft somehow.

On my bathroom mirror was a note. “Dinner 6:30p. I drive. Dress fancy-schmancy.”

After a long shower I found where I had stuffed my phone partially under the bed and tied up in my pants. I had two missed calls and one voicemail. One was from an unknown number, so I ignored it.

I leaned back and sighed. The second was from Sylvia.

(131) Overanalysis

I noticed a letter on my kitchen table that hadn’t been in the mailbox, and picked it up as I went to listen to the voicemail. I checked the time stamp: it had been left while I was in the shower, so hopefully Sylvie had gotten some rest.

“Hi, E,” it started. “Um.” That wasn’t a good sign. That meant either she was thinking, or trying not to say something, right? There was a long pause that, if I hadn’t been so relaxed, I might have started to mentally cramp over, if you know what I mean.

“About last night,” she finally said, “I didn’t mean to blow you off. I… look, this isn’t working. Just call me, OK?” She rattled off her digits and I deleted the message.

I opened up the letter and read.

It took me a while, and all thoughts of Sylvia had kind of blown away in the thinking. This was, if you excuse me, Bigger than that.

I hadn’t given much brain time to the events of the Small Court or however I’d end up naming it. They weren’t related to the Gillikins, they didn’t fight Dragons, and, well, a troll, however scary, just wasn’t on the same level. I had to see if the city was going to fix the pavement outside, but besides that kind of mundane clean-up of the night, and the rock Peredur knew was in my pocket, it was something I was pushing off until I had to deal with it.

This letter pushed the time table up, because Thomas called me “friend.”

I was probably feeling weird about the subject given the events of last night. I realized sometime on the drive home, feeling a little maudlin about my empty bed, and recovering from all the emotions of the night, that Ed was a real friend. I mean, minus his being nosy about my personal life (I really didn’t have any designs towards Maggie anymore. Those feelings have been shot and buried in the backyard. I hadn’t quite sown the metaphorical remains with salt, but I was ready to do so if needed.) I guess that’s part of being a friend, too. Ed hadn’t been steady with anyone, well, ever, really, so I couldn’t return the favor (although a dark part of my brain that remembers that kind of thing chuckled disturbingly about it) but… huh. I wonder if Ed’s really gay. I mean, he says he likes the girls, but I do, too, and all of mine have turned out witches, apparently. Which isn’t different than “lady” but it still seems like a strange coincidence.

I got up and got some soda from the refrigerator, added some ice and then came back to look at the letter. First things first. Clever Capitalization seemed linked to words about size, specifically a lack thereof. There wasn’t any, “HELP ME” or other word of power in the choice of letters along either the left or right hand sides. I held it up to the light, but couldn’t detect any invisible writing to be made visible. I mean, it could have been waiting for the full moon near an equinox and then it would tell me about the three dwarves that can walk abreast, but I kind of doubted it.

With all of this analysis, you almost end up disappointed when nothing comes up, but so far it seemed, except for having unnaturally regular letters in his handwriting, perfectly normal.

So it was a matter of content. There were definitely rules to what he could tell me. He spent a lot of paper to tell me that there were Big Things Happening. That sort of thing always reminds me of the movie, “Men In Black,” where Agent Kay says, “There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they Do Not Know about it!” Practitioners are not immune from their own myopic viewpoints. There’s always an incursion of Beyonders, or a rogue mage, or a changeling plot, or a rampaging Dragon… well, fine, that last one was a new thing to me, but the rest of them? It’s happening all the time, and it’s just not important to people who aren’t in the worlds it happens to, pretty much. Replace a movie star with a changeling? I’m not going to know. Wreck my car and steal my fairy? I’m going to know.

Doloise. “They are fascinated by love.” I think Doloise loved me. It’s been hard to put my brain around it, the being-that-was-Doloise different from the Realm, as I wasn’t sure there was one. She wanted me to free her, and instead I got her et by Dragon. If they can die. If I understand death and immortals.

So, a quick read gets that Thomas got in over his head. Something I don’t understand about twins that’s probably some kind of esoterica of which I’m not inducted into the sacred mysteries. He’s responsible for me getting to talk to the King, because he thinks there’s a Portal Problem. He drops some Star Wars references to verify that it’s him (not that Star Wars isn’t a huge things in the Aetherverse. I mean, there are disembodied voices that complain that Han shot first in the farthest reaches of known conceptual space. Really.) He insinuates that Adelinda knows about Wyrm Queens, which, unless he means Dragons, I am not worried about, he talks a little poetry (not the Red Poets, at least) and then he muses about the importance of love to the fey. He finishes with a, “Don’t come find me, but I was working on this case so it’s important you draw some of the same conclusions,” and tells me to go directly to the King, do not collect two-hundred dollars. The King will be a bit of a jerk, but I can see past that to see he has his people to consider.

OK, gotcha. Now, what do you really mean, Thomas? Guess there’s only one way to find out.

But first things first, I need to call a girl.

(132) Under Your Spell

I busied myself in the kitchen for a while, thinking. Changed the sheets and made the bed, set some laundry going, and turned on some music while I took a quick glance at my e-mail. A quick glance ran about an hour even after my awesome use of filters, but I had been ignoring some of the details. Luckily, my mp3 karma was fabulous. (I understand there’s development in programs that meet your mood, and yes, I have some great Pandora stations, but sometimes it’s just nice to load up the library and hit “random.” I fancy the “personal soundtrack” power as long as it has volume control and an awesome selection.) I was in the middle of forgetting the passing of time entirely when another call blipped up on my phone.

“Hey, E!” Ed sounded like he was in a good mood.

“Hey!” I responded while browsing my special Google Alert about dragon sightings. Ninety percent of it was cryptozoology conspiracy sites, and 9 to some ridiculous decimals was trying to sell me knick-knacks, but just in case…

“Heard anything from the girls?” he asked.

“Nah. I figure Mags is going to hunker down in her magical bunker and try to gather up troops before she makes any real sorties. It’ll all be supernatural and no one will care in the end.” I sighed. “Oh, wait, no, that was another celestial dragon.”

“That was a non-sequitur,” Ed corrected.

“Sorry – distracted.”

“So you’re cynical on autopilot?”

I closed the message and paid attention. “Sylvie called, but I forgot to call her back.”

“That’s a point against you in the ladies score book. Two points and you have to bring her flowers.”

“Huh.” I considered it. “So is the aim to build points or stay neutral?”

“Gaming the system only leads to heartbreak,” Ed said. “Which reminds me, the DM’s back in town. We’ll schedule via e-mail.” He cleared his throat. “Did you consider what I asked you last night?”

“Um. Frankly, I don’t remember. I’m sure I did. I did a lot of considering. And I did some considering this morning. I’m made of consider.”

“I just need to see that you’re serious about dropping the Nagster.”

“Hey, that’s my name for her.” I grinned. “Of course I am.” I waited. “What’s it to you? You want to date her?” I tried to sound mock-suspicious.

“No!” he said, too quickly, but also with enough veracity that while I probably had razzing rights, I wasn’t going to take them. “I’m just looking out for a friend.”

“So a friend of yours wants to date her?” I felt I was entitled to tease him that much, at least.

He sighed. “You should call the girl.”

“No, really,” I said, “you’re being kind of pushy. What’s the deal?”

“Do you have any good reason not to call her?” he asked.

“Um.” I couldn’t possibly have sounded embarrassed over the phone, but the delay was probably telling.

“She’s not your type, succubi overdose has turned you gay, you had a sex-change during your mysterious disappearance?” he proposed.

“Can succubi overdose do anything besides wear you out?” I asked, curious.

“I guess they just turn into incubi if you go gay.”

“I think so. Um. In order, she’s apparently my type because all I’m only allowed to date is witches, but she’d be my type anyway because she’s hot. No, I do think I have an overdose. And, um, I thought I told you why I was out over beers.”

“Yeah, you said something crazy about a fire and a Dragon. I figured you were speaking metaphorically or metaphysically or, really, putting me on because it wasn’t any of my business.”


“Hey, no offense, bro. You’ve gotten weird lately.”

“I’m being grilled about my personal life out of the blue, but I’m the weird one. Let me just say that my personal life got kind of complicated last night. This morning.”

“Um, when did you get a chance?”

“My door was open when I got home,” I said.

“And you met a cute police officer and … You couldn’t have spent the night in jail and had things just happen.”

“And there was a girl here. My other date.”

“She has a key already?”

“She pointed out that she’s an emergency rescue technician or whatever fancy thing they’re calling it. They haz wayz.”

“Of making you talk?”

“We didn’t use a lot of words…”


“So it’s any woman who isn’t Maggie? I mean, you didn’t even ask if she was human.”

“That’s, um, not something I get worried about usually. But, yeah, anyone but Maggie. She is human, right?”

“Maggie? I’m not sure. Yeah. Her name’s Rohana.”

“And she’s a witch?”

“Well, no.”

“Good.” He sounded very relieved.

“Is that part of the problem?”

He was quiet for a long time. “Look, totally serious, um, E. Can she turn me into a frog?”

“Maggie? Probably not.”

“I don’t like ‘probably.'”

“I think that the odds are long against it. I am hard-pressed to conceive the situation whereupon turning you into a frog is a reasonable possibility. I just know better than to say she can’t do something because then she’ll buckle down and do it according to the laws of feminine perversity.”

“Ah, you do know something about women.”

“You’re the one with the scorebook, man.”

“True, too true. Alright.” He took a deep breath. “I overheard her talking once. It was about a month ago, and she was, you know, girl talking.”

“I’ve never met an actual ‘woman whisperer.'”

“Look, there’s no real word for it. Anyway, she and some other chicks are in full out gossip mode, un-man the cannons, fire at Will and Dave and Chris, kind of thing, and your name comes up.”

“My name?”

“Your initial, if you must. Anyway, she said something about a spell. And one of the other girls says, `A love spell?’ and she kind of pooh-poohs the idea, but she’s doing more nodding than she is pooh-poohing.”

“Big words, there, Ed. Pooh-pooh?”

“I got caught up in all the estrogen or something. Anyway, I confronted her on it, and she said it was a long time ago and it wasn’t something she’d done, but she started doing that snippy, `You are a bug with a thousand legs,’ kind of look and stopped being approachable. You know, frog territory.”

“Huh.” I scratched my head. “A spell.”

“Yeah, so I think it’s good that you can date someone else. Anyone else. It’s encouraging.”

“That’s a word for it. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Hopping would make my job incredibly difficult.”

“You’re still an exterminator.”

“Good point. Anyway, it really was just a little bit ago, and then things went weird with you and… I’ve got your back, bro.”

“No, I got you. Huh. I’d better give Sylvie a call, then. I’m supposed to have dinner with this new girl. Rohana. And she said to snazz it up, so I’ve gotta go.”

“Yeah, let’s get together soon.”

“Totally, bro.” We said our good-byes and I stared at the phone.

I brought up Sylvie’s number.

(133) Dial Tone

One of the things that’s different on the smartphone rather than on an old-fashioned telephone is that there can be hesitation, a definite pause. It used to be as soon as you started dialing the tone would get all snippity at you if you paused for any dramatic reason. You could hang up before it even began to ring if you were quick. On a smartphone, sometimes even that much is registered.

Oh, and on those old phones, the only person you ever butt-dialed was the operator. Don’t bother the operator. Not even to save your game. Plus, you generally call those 411 wannabes now.

I find myself often with a finger pressed over the button, reconsidering what I was going to say even before I thought of it. (That’s an awkward place in your head, a kind of proactive censoring: “You don’t want to say that.” “But I don’t know what it was you just deleted.” “Just trust me. Don’t let your id come to play in a superego discussion.” “Is that sort of like not bringing a knife to a gunfight?” “Uh… kinda?”)

I had to fight the little demon of procrastination (probably not literal – might have been a gremlin, anyway) that said, “If you put it off long enough it will cease to be a problem.” Which is true, yes, (that probably puts them into the “definitely a demon” camp – if you believe only ex-angels like to play with truth like that) but not necessarily resulting in what I wanted to happen. Not taking the fork in the road is just as much of a choice as taking the fork. Which, unless you were battling the Giant Spaghetti Monster, might not be as useful as you’d like.

There is no spoon.

“Hey,” I said. I rounded out the vowels, making it a lot longer than a three letter world usually is in my language. I defeated procrastination and she had picked up on the first ring. I tried to decide that that wasn’t a bad thing.

“Hi,” Sylvia chirped. She sounded a little breathy. Maybe she’d grabbed the phone in a hurry.

I realized a little deja vu from the day before, except then I sounded a lot more desperate for female attention. Or something like that. It’s amazing how much someone loving you a little can change your entire perspective.

“So?” I made it sound like a question. After all, she’d called me, right?

“I kinda wanted to apologize for last night, this morning, you know.”

“Nothing to apologize for,” I said, magnaminously. “You were probably pretty shock-y.”

“Yeah. Um. Look. I don’t know really what happened. The only things that make sense is that I was talking to you and then you were at the door. Things got kind of crazy after that and I remember this gorgeous golden lady giving everyone a blessing against the darkness, like a goddess. Then you and Maggie were bickering like a married couple and I met your friend Ed, all that stuff I got straight.”

I was a little bewildered with her recounting. “Maggie sort any of that out for you?” I asked carefully. Really, I trusted that Maggie would give a pretty honest description of what happened.

“We, uh, had a fight, so, no, not really.”

Ah, gossip. “Should I ask?” I gave just enough hesitation to it that I felt like the gay boyfriend in the movies. You know, the one who gets the good lines because apparently gay men are allowed to be coy. It just looks snarky from women in the Hollywood world. Snarky is attractive for women in my world, but apparently I don’t live in Hollywood.

“Well, it was kind of about you.” So she wanted to talk about it. “She said you’d brought some kind of demon and the goddess had struck it down but then accused our coven of being the tools by which you summoned it. Short version.”

“Uh, that’s, like, total–” I began to defend myself (and reality as I knew it) when Sylvie interrupted.

“Totally not true.” She sounded, if anything, more annoyed than I felt. “I know. The creature that stole your form, well, that didn’t have anything to do with us.”

Wait, that was almost accusatory. Well, yeah, and true, but still. I was about to pipe up when she intervened again.

“Maggie had her whole holier-than-thou aura going, and when I say thou, I mean you. You really get under her skin for some reason. Anyway. I said to her that whatever my boyfriend might be involved in, and don’t get hung up on the word because I just used it to shut her up, it wasn’t dragging us in to some kind of coven war because she was feeling jealous. She looked pretty angry but it got her to leave.”

“It wasn’t a goddess,” I finally managed.

“It wasn’t The Goddess,” she didn’t really make it a question.

“It wasn’t a goddess. It was a succubus. Maybe a controller. Bumped up in intensity by a Power that had possessed you by your own request.”

“What?” she didn’t quite shriek.

“You admitted to having made a deal.” I didn’t mean to push her, but that was somewhat important.

“Why do you say that? That’s not funny. That’s monstrous. Quit kidding me, E.”

I was kind of at a loss. “I wouldn’t joke about something like that,” I said, quietly. “But I’m willing to believe you. Why would you say something like that?”

“I wouldn’t. This is some kind of sick joke? I don’t… I don’t deal with powers. I’m not high enough up in the coven, and I barely believe in the powers anyway. I haven’t even found who I will be working with, my spiritual consort if you would.”

“I’d recommend staying away from succubi,” I said, wryly. I don’t know why I said it, but part of me just didn’t believe her. I found the thing that was inhabiting her to be slightly more realistic.

That’s another thing you miss from the old phones – the dial tone when someone hangs up.

(134) Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’d like to say, for the benefit of the ladies, that I considered calling Sylvia right back. I considered it carefully. I gave it weight. I gave it time.

I threw the phone on the bed and opened the closet door, instead.

Several things fell out, things I’d apparently disturbed. I don’t have a bowling ball or hubcap collection, thankfully. I picked them back up, as I know having a clean bedroom is an invitation and I was feeling friendly, maybe even frisky.

“Snazzy,” I said aloud. I wondered how Rohana meant it. Tux and tails? (And am I the only one who pictures a Sonic rug like the bear rugs you used to see in cartoons? Nevermind. I also wanted to see the Azrael/Garfield Ultimate Showdown, though it might not be of Ultimate Destiny.) Did I have to sparkle?

I ended up taking out some good interview pants, and a vest I’d saved for a steampunk outfit I was going to do if I ever got my lazy rear moving for it. I took a few minutes transferring stuff out of my regular jacket for a suit jacket, reminding myself of a similar montage (minus a lot of making-people-dead stuff) in almost every action film.

I didn’t actually go through the list aloud. (“Salt. Check. Mirror shard. Check. Handkerchief. Check. Keys. Check. Checkcard. Card, I mean, check. Condom. Check. Deck of cards. Check. Old receipt for hamburgers down the street. Check. Now you’re being silly. Check.”)

I shaved carefully. The phone didn’t ring.

I put the get-up on. I tried on a succession of hats, and ended up far more towards, “Goofy,” rather than, “Snazzy.” I considered them anyway, but instead decided on a thin silk tie and a pin made of an old motherboard.

The phone was determined to remain silent.

I leaned back across the bed and grabbed it. No, no missed calls. I could just call her back. That had been kind of a jerkish thing to say. I could apologize.

Yeah, right.

I checked the time instead. It was time to start looking out the window compulsively. Of course, except for an ambulance, I didn’t know what Rohana drove.

I mentally tried to compose a scene. Should I look anxious? Should I be reading a book? I eyed the stack of graphic novels that had been undergoing some kind of multiplication on the chair. What if I picked up one that she thought was dumb? I mean, she was at least kind of into the same genres I was, so I didn’t want to run into the wrong side of geek snobbery. Of course, that went the other way around. What if she liked magic pony fantasy and didn’t like merchandise-driven continuity-confused technoporn? Or, um, the other way around?

I resolved to get through the stack, or build more shelving. I opened my closet door and picked up new and different things that decided to fall. Luckily, none had yet transformed themselves into bowling balls or hubcaps. I considered the space and had actually gone looking for a rubber mallet and a pretzel (it made sense at the time) when the doorbell rang.

I checked my phone, but it was the doorbell. I had just not heard anyone use it in a while. I wondered (while I crossed to the front door) if this was a good litmus test for the preternatural. I wasn’t sure entirely how I would get Peredur to approach a door that stood on a stage, but I was thinking it could be a truism that fey tend to knock.

I opened the door and Rohana jumped towards me. I moved backwards instinctively, catching myself before I knocked my head on the back of the couch or the breakfast bar or anything super suave like that.

She laughed, steadying herself on the doorframe. “I didn’t mean to launch myself at you,” she apologized.

“You looked ready to pounce,” I admitted.

“I hadn’t heard the doorbell ring inside, so I didn’t know if I should knock, and you opened the door too quickly and, wow, that’s pretty snazzy.” She handwaved her explanation away, however it let my hypothesis down.

She was wearing a long burgundy shawl with silver threads over a white top and a long skirt that matched the shawl. I didn’t know what to call the top, other than it evoked a sound more associated with deliciousness than fashion design. I expressed it to her with an exaggerated waggle of the eyebrows.

“Yeah,” she said, giggling. “Let’s go. I am back on shift tonight, so let’s try and make every moment count.” She leaned in to kiss me, and I anticipated it with enthusiasm.

“Even the traffic?”

“Hmmm. Locked up in a small space with you and nothing to do for minutes?”

“Sounds naughty,” I decided. “That’s promising.”

“Or a confessional,” she admitted.

I snickered and locked the door after us.

She drove a sensible late-model sedan, and it looked like it had been recently cleaned if not vacuumed. I got in on the passenger side, glancing at the rental car in the late afternoon sun, checking it over again for any material damage.

There was a paper under the windshield wipers that I noted while we were driving away. I’d get it when we got back. Probably a flyer for a local church. I had noticed they were pretty aggressive in their print advertising. At least it attracted the literate.

“Where are we going?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“I’m wearing white,” she said.

“So it’s not barbecue or italian?” I grinned.

“Or burlesque.”

“Does burlesque lead to staining?” I asked.

“No, but it sounded like the logical end triplet. Um.” She bit her bottom lip. “I’m sorry if I sound nervous. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a date, but we’re going to someplace I like. You’re not allergic to seafood, are you?”

“No, but a lobster killed my father.”

She glanced at me while getting onto the highway.

I laughed. “No, no, and only the original anime ‘Little Mermaid’ with Marina made me cry. I would have eaten Flounder fried up with some olive oil and salt.”

She smiled. Then frowned. “Hold on,” she said, her lips gone tight.

I waited for the crash.

(135) Averted Avast

It turns out that Rohana is merely a considerate driver who has anxiety about merging into rush hour, because a moment later, still squinching my eyes closed, she breathed out and relaxed. “I didn’t think that truck would let me in,” she admitted.

“Semi or pick-up?” I asked, still with my eyes tightly shut.

“I don’t try to make a semi stop on my account. Enough people are crazy around trucks,” she said. It wasn’t curt, but it did sound like she had a reason. I reflected, not looking at the world around me, that most of the accidents I had seen the tractor-trailer style trucks in were because someone in a little zippy car had forgotten the truck’s limitations. They can’t stop on a dime, they have limited vision, and they’re big so people get nervous when driving next to them.

“Can I open my eyes now?” I asked.

She giggled, which I took as a yes.

We were headed southbound on a local freeway business loop that led to the main interstate corridor that pretty much defines Denver. It’s the modern equivalent to the rule about cities being born to rivers, only this one was a river of concrete, steel, and physics. I had some ideas as to what lay in this general direction, but I tried not to guess.

I like to think I’m possessed of a healthy curiosity, sure, but I didn’t shake my presents, look gift horses in the mouth, nor do I try to figure out who did it in mysteries. Too often my delight is in the story well told, the story itself, not the details. I’ve heard the chicken crossing the road joke, but it still gets me laughing if it’s told in a great fashion. Getting to the other side is all about the journey, after all.

“So, I am reminded that I should always get the young man’s name and address,” she said in the brief, but fairly comfortable silence.

“And not to trust dogs with orange eyebrows?” I asked.

“On the contrary, I only trust dogs with orange eyebrows,” she smiled. “How do you pronounce what you substitute the ‘E’ for?”

“Very carefully,” I suggested. I gave her my father’s method. “Only no branch of the family spells it the same way.”

“Ah. Is that your phone ringing?” she changed the subject.

I had to get into my coat in order to dig it out of my vest, managing to do so in just enough time to see myself missing Sylvia’s call.

“Sorry, was it important?” she asked, as I sighed and set the phone to vibrate.

“Um. Not really,” I decided.

“You’re a poor liar. It was something personal. I can see it in your body language. Probably another girl. Probably Sylvie,” she grinned.

I grinned right back at her. “So what should I tell her?”

“Hands off. You had your chance, wench-io. The early bird gets the best specials at the buffet.” She burst out laughing and took the exit into the tunnel.

“Well, I guess I’d rather be a smorgasbord than a worm,” I mused.

“Shhh. You’re supposed to hold your breath through those.”

“Huh. Is that like raising your legs when you go over train tracks in the bus?”

“Might be. Here we are.” She got excellent parking, which isn’t to say the place wasn’t packed, just that she snagged a spot near the front.

I had never been to the place, but I had heard good things about it. She put my hand down when I grabbed the menu. “Let me order?” she asked. I wouldn’t say the request had a little bit of pout to it, exactly, but she had a mischevious plan.

I dropped the menu and held up my hands exaggeratedly. “You’re the boss,” I grinned.

I took a moment to enjoy the interior. Plenty of tables, dark wood, some artificial foliage in nice white pots designed to look kind of like white lions. I remember reading an article recently that showed how modern technology made all the previously white statues into this garish combination of clown-like colours. I think the authors exaggerated for effect.

“Psst!” the lion on my right said.

I looked around to see if there was someone else. Rohana was busy conferring with the waiter, making some kind of special arrangement. I hoped she wasn’t pretending it was my birthday and sending bored waitstaff to half-heartedly sing or clap or otherwise make a lot of noise and add to the humiliation I would no doubt bring upon myself tonight.

“Psst! Over here!” the lion repeated.

I turned towards the lion, moving some of the silk leaves to see if there was a recorder or something else stuck in them. Hey, they dusted!

“Hee hee hee! That tickles!” the lion said.

I looked back at Rohana. She seemed not to notice. Maybe people playing with plants was nothing out of the ordinary on her dates. Maybe she only dated professional botany botherers? Foliage fingerers? Bush boink–… oh dear. Um.

“No, down here. The lion, you idiot.”

The lion looked up at me and blinked its filmy white eyes with the sound of ceramic tinking against itself. It stretched its head a little bit, looking from right to left. “Good. No one’s really paying attention except that little girl, and she’s a Small Thing, so she’s one of ours.”

I glanced over to where a little girl looking extremely bored had her eyes on our conversation. Her folks were eating appetizers.

“You’re from the King?” I asked in an undertone, feeling very James Bond for a moment. The waiter took our menus, but Rohana caught his attention for one other note, one hand referring to the wine glasses on the table.

“The Seven King of Small Things, yes. We are the first Messenger.”

The lion jumped onto the table, looking like I had accidentally knocked it over. I stood up and made a big deal about looking as if I was apologizing for being terribly clumsy. “What’s that about?” I hissed.

The lion just snorted and froze in my hands. Behind me, the little girl was laughing. It turned to sound a little like a roar.

“May I be excused to go to the bathroom?” she asked an adult. Getting the, “Go-ahead,” wave, she headed towards Rohana and I. “The King,” she murmured in a whisper that sounded like the lion.

“Um, I have to, you know, go,” I said, suavely. Rohana stared at me as I picked up my napkin and put it on the table. “I’ll be right back,” I promised.

Presuming I wasn’t arrested for being a pervert or something. As I passed by a picture on the way towards the restroom, the picture in it stirred. “The message,” said something in the same voice as the lion. It was the picture of a window somewhere in the area of the Mediterranean.

I pretended to be looking at it as something dark moved behind the window. “The message,” it repeated.

“Yeah, I got that the first time. What is the message?”

“What was that?” asked an older woman coming out of the restroom behind me.

“Oh, sorry, I was, um, talking to myself.” The picture was just a picture again. I went into the restroom. At least I could wash my hands and make it look like I wasn’t getting weird.

(136) Meddle Metal

There was a lot of traffic back and forth from the bathroom. I pretended to be waiting for someone, someone who wasn’t a six year old girl, and then ducked in to the restroom. I washed my hands and glanced into the mirror.

A Lion was standing behind me. Large, Aslan-like, completely bone-white except for the strange displacer-beast like-tendrils of black ivy vines growing out of its shoulders. It yawned, or showed its teeth. I’m not sure which or if both was its intent.

Incongruously, if such a thing could be said about the whole situation, it had a pink tongue. Bubblegum pink. I guess its gums were also pale pink, but really, it made me think of blood and then of cotton candy. At least I’m good at adapting quickly to such degree of turnaround, or I was still scarred from early watchings of Killer Klownz.

“The message?” I asked as the running water slowed to a trickle. I busied myself for a moment screwing in the little pieces of the faucet that were loose. Yeah, I do that. Sometimes I even keep a small screwdriver in my pocket when I’m feeling particularly nerdy.

“You’re no fun,” the Lion complained. He settled to the middle of the bathroom floor and rubbed his nose against his paw.

“I disagree. I’m lots of fun. Right now I’m thinking if you close your eyes and mouth in a snowstorm I could represent you with a blank page as if it were a photo.”

“I thought that was the White Elephant jokebook.”

I couldn’t stand it. “How do you know?”

“My cousins stand outside a pretty famous library.”

“Oh.” I smiled.

“You might want a notebook for this,” the Lion said, blinking its milky-white eyes exaggeratedly.

I pulled my phone out in just as much exaggeration. I flipped it to notetaking mode.

“The Seven King of Small Things,” the lion said. I liked the Lion’s voice. Very James Earl Jones as Mufasa from the Lion King. When Disney gets those things right I always wonder which came first. The fey reflect well, but that goes both ways.

“I got it. That’s it?”

“Shut up, Small Wizard,” that had the hint of a roar in it.

“I’ve got a hot date waiting for me. Sorry for the impatience.”

“Lovely flowers, those. No need to apologize. Let me see.” The eyes flashed red for a moment, not like a infrared, but as if they filled with blood and then drained in an instant.

I wrote it like this:


It sounded pretty dramatic, but the scansion was terrible. I didn’t pretend to understand its meaning. I only had two questions. “And each of you ghosts of Christmas Never are going to give me bad poetry?” I looked up into the mirror.

I was alone with a fake potted plant in the middle of the men’s restroom. With one verbalized unanswered question, and one just left to die alone in cold amongst the tiles.

I sighed and left the planter to go join my date.

“What was that about?” Rohana asked as I came back to the table. Our appetizers were there, as well as our drinks. I had expected something different than wine since she was headed to her shift, but I hadn’t expected the little mint leaf and fruit skewer in my cola.

I took a drink to gather my thoughts and glance at my watch. It had only been a few minutes, so I felt relieved. “Little lion men jumped me in the bathroom with bad poetry.”

“Rhyme can be wielded as a weapon,” she agreed, nodding. Then she stopped and gave me a tight smile. “Really?”

“Well, I exaggerated. It was a single lion man. But he was really, really big.”

“Where did you take the pot?” she pointed a finger behind me.

“Are you accusing me of drugs?” I grinned. “Oh. Um. I thought…” I turned around and there was a nice bare piece of counter behind me. “Apparently I left it in the bathroom.” Only I hadn’t taken it to begin with, but, you know, might as well be hung for a horse than a pony. No, wait, it had something to do with sheep. Of course it did.

“I am suspending my disbelief in part because weird things do happen around you,” she said. “You don’t look particularly whipped,” she tilted her head from side to side checking me out with a smile.

“Were you offering to change that?” I teased, reaching for some of the food on the plate.

“Flogging, maybe,” she blushed a little and took a sip of her drink.

“Oh. So now I know,” I teased. It was much better conversational ground, plus, she turned a cute pink when she blushed. Same pink as her drink, actually. I waited for a moment of weakness to spring the comparison on her, and hopefully get another shade. It’s a little game, a game of rouges for rogues.

“These are pretty good,” she said, changing the subject.

“Huh. Not metal. Well, one of them could still be metal, but meddle. He meant meddle.” I pulled my phone out.

“No, no metallic aftertaste. You have the strangest non-sequitors,” she said. She leaned over to look at my phone.

“Huh. Bad poetry. And here I was thinking you had sudden inspiration for a love poem that didn’t work out. This second line, oh wait, just give me the phone.”

Bemused, I passed it over to her. I felt kind of naked without it, I realized, but it wasn’t uncomfortable being naked in her hand. Or something like that.

I got it back a moment later. She got up and read it over my shoulder.

“Before you meddle, test your mettle without metal. Whether you weather the weather or not. Arise, arose, your twinkling toes, toes the line to the lien alone for prose,” she said aloud. “It’s a riddle of semi-elements. Metal as fire and earth, weather as air and water. Dance and law are not elements I am familiar with, although I do believe in meat and honey elementals.”

I kissed her.

(137) Walls Are Breakin’

She looked at me. “What was that for?” she asked, and it sounded a little peevish. I let her go immediately.

“Um, I was thinking you were brilliant and all the various other positive things I was…thinking.” I felt kind of uncomfortable, and the knot of waiters staring at me wasn’t helping.

She sat back down in her seat. “Well, keep it positive,” she said, and even she sounded a little vague.

“Isn’t that an electron joke?”

“Watt if it is?”

I grinned. “It gave me a bit of a jolt, that’s all.”

She considered it and shrugged, smiling back. Waitstaff did their orbit and added sugary liquid gold as needed to iced glasses.

I didn’t think I was being entirely presumptuous. If there’d been a “no kissing” rule instituted I would have been disappointed but last night there’d been …um … kissing as well as other things. In fact, she had specifically started the kissing. On the other hand, in search of walking the line between Nice Guy and Not A Creep I was trying to follow her prompts. Really, and I know it sounds like I’m coming close to crossing the line, but women do have the prerogative however contradictory it sounds. They will change their minds and moods, and I’ll just try and keep up.

A little part of my brain added, “Because that worked so well with Maggie.” I shut it up.

We practiced our small talk against each other, and then the food started to come out and we were reduced to making primal sounds of culinary pleasure. She started to amplify the game and I followed carefully, but something had definitely turned.

“Was it the riddle?” I asked out of the blue.

“You’re just weird,” she said. “I mean, I like the weird, but it’s kind of hard to follow. Not in needing a road map, although that would help, too, but… I’m not weird.”

“Says the woman who rescues people for a living,” I pointed out.

“You even make that sound heroic rather than a daily grind,” she smiled. But I had flattered her, which was a point back on my side. If I was keeping a score board of some sort, which I totally wasn’t because it would have been crude and that totally lost me points.

“It’s fascinating,” I tried to capitalize on my advantage. “I… do boring office stuff.”

“And fight Dragons,” she added.

“No, really, that’s…” I pushed a bite of essential deliciousness across the plate. “That’s not me. That was,” I gestured with my fork into the distance, “something I hadn’t planned on doing or getting involved in, and I’m absolutely unsure how I survived, but somehow I think my fairy saved me.”

“Like a guardian angel?” she asked.

I didn’t squirm in my seat, but I was definitely trying to find words. “Not… quite.”

“Were you having a relationship with this…fairy?” she asked. “I mean, it’s okay if you are, but I didn’t think you were gay.”

“What?” I dropped my fork. It clattered off the plate and over the table and onto the floor where I had to fish for it. One of the orbiting waitstaff whisked it away and deposited a new one.

She was giggling. “Oh, dear, I’m sorry.”

“No, no, it’s OK. I’m, um, I like the ladies.”

“The look of bewilderment on your face was definitely worth the price of the meal,” she said. “Anyway, it was something I was going to ask your mother if we had been able to connect with her.”

“You tried to get ahold of my mom?” I swore.

“Um, normally mothers like to know when their sons are found badly injured in burning buildings,” she pointed out.

“Pinch me. Tell me this is all a nightmare, please.”

“Well!” she was smiling, but there was a hint of truth in it.

“No, no, I mean, it’s not you. Really. If I say it’s me, will you hit me?”

“Do you want me to?”

“I don’t know.” I took a deep breath and smiled for the passing waitress.

Rohana slapped my hand smartly with a spoon.

“Ow!” I pulled my hand back. “First things first, I don’t want to be hit.”

“Good to know,” Rohana smiled. “Second?”

“Second, I guess it means I really do need to call home.”

“Is it that bad?” she asked me, seriously.

“I can’t talk to her. It’s like we’re using the same words to speak a foreign language. I can’t tell her anything real, and I’m afraid to lie. My sister… it’s a little easier. I could tell my sister I’m gay and I like kittens in inappropriate ways and she just wouldn’t listen. I’m still her annoying big brother who is a bit weird. My mom tries to listen and give me advice, but she wants something from me. Children.” I grinned and rolled my eyes. “I’m sure it’s more than that. She wants me to be successful, I’m sure, but unless it fits in the box she has set aside for me, it won’t register.”

“I get it. No, we got in touch with a fellow named… Ed instead.”

“Oh yeah, he’s my second emergency contact. Wait.” I looked at her, confused. “Ed said he didn’t know anything.”

“He came in while you were, well, out.” She frowned. “Maybe he wanted to hear the story from you. We didn’t have anything to tell him, and you were recovering on your own.”

“Yeah, that could be it.” I hated feeling suspicious.

“I didn’t really get to meet him, just do some paperwork. I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hospital. Really, I don’t like them very much. I know it sounds weird, but I find them more draining than healing.”

“I understand. They wake you up to take tests and then expect you to rest and recuperate again.” I stopped playing with my empty plate and my fork and let the waiter take them.

“So, is there a third?”

“I need to tell someone the story, I think. It’s going to take time, and you need to go.”

“Well, I want to say I am all ears, but you know I’m a few more parts,” she grinned. “Hey, let me get our dessert to-go and then get you back home. I am practically bursting with questions.”

I grinned and was about to make a leading comment when I noticed the waiter’s eyes, glowing with a fire like Peredur’s.

(138) Cinnamon Oblivion

I know I tensed up. I had read a while ago that one of the reasons people get so hurt in collisions is that they’ll watch the car hitting them in the rear view mirror and then brace themselves in ways that don’t match the kinds of forces they’re about to experience. I guess we always do want to catch the numbers on the freight trains coming towards us.

The waiter’s smile turned into that familiar almost-teasing smirk I had come to associate with Peredur, but then it faded, as did the flash of red. He set a box on my plate. “Your dessert, sir.” He said it like a pronouncement of doom rather than the casual statement.

“Um, thank you?” I murmured. A similar box dropped onto Rohana’s plate. Another waiter came by with the bill, and that absolute sense of placement on the table that didn’t make it anyone’s immediate responsibility and certainly didn’t indicate anyone in particular to have to take it, because, you know, they can wait as long as we needed, provided we didn’t want any more service and we vacated the table as soon as possible for the next paying customer.

I don’t blame them, I just roll my eyes at the choice of language. If my agency sent me, I’d work in food service. I would just have to prepare the charm that protects my soul.

“There was something strange,” Rohana said.

The rushing sound of wind that I had been hearing stopped. The portal had more of a thin, whistling bit that had been part of the background rushing and bustling, but it had been closed shut.

Behind something, not by me.

That made me wonder… I had not heard any portals when being visited by the Smalls. (Wee folk they were not – the lion thing had gone up past my shoulder. The troll had towered over me. Really, for Small Things, I would not be surprised if the King was some kind of Storm Giant.) I wonder if they wrapped themselves in some kind of cellophane like the -cubi had, only somewhat less obviously. Maybe it had been a concession to clothing.

Taking a deep breath and trying not to focus on the obvious reaction one has to contemplating what a succubus looks like in great detail (that way lies madness!) I missed Rohana taking the bill.

“Let me at least pay for the tip,” I said.

“Hmmm? Oh, no. It’ll drive you and your primitive and sexist chivalry crazy for weeks if I do it all.” She smiled and picked up her dessert and her purse.

“I hadn’t taken you for a sadist,” I grinned.

“My treat. I told you.” She gave a little sway towards me as I stood up. “You can try making it back up to me later.”

“When does your shift end?” I asked.

“Oh, I plan on stringing this out,” she smiled.

“I am beginning to suspect you are evil.”

“Only now?” she grinned, looking back at me. “Was I not sufficiently naughty before?” she giggled.

I followed her to the car with my dessert box. I hadn’t opened it. It was somewhat warm, which meant that it was likely not ice cream, but until I had verified its components, it could be chocolate or bread pudding or some sinister combination or something completely different. It was Schroedinger’s dessert, minus any cat ingredients.

She sat hers on the back seat. lovingly moving a windbreaker she’d had in around it. “Not putting the seatbelt on it?” I joked.

“You don’t know what it is.” It wasn’t a question. “That would only warp the box and get icing on the seat. Here, let me take yours.” She wrapped mine up with hers as I climbed into the passenger side.

She opened the windows a little as we went down the highway, reminding me again of the portal question. She broke my reverie. “Were you surprised when I asked if you were gay?”

“I thought I had been sufficiently naughty,” I responded.

“Oh. My sister is involved in Pride issues, so it’s kind of one of my buttons.” She shrugged. “You didn’t seem to get mad.”

“No, I mean, why would I?”

“Just checking. So when you said fairy you meant like Tinkerbell?”

“Hey, clap your hands when you say that,” I teased. Actually, Doloise had been a lot like Tinkerbell now that I thought about it.

“I always wanted Red-Handed Jill to take over the pirate forces once Hook was gone,” she mused. “But the fantasy kept flirting with Hook initiating her into various mysteries which seemed like a thinly veiled reference to having sex with her father and that got icky pretty quickly.”

“Um, yeah,” I agreed. I shook my head. “Yeah, it’s… kind of a long story, and I think I was just warned off from telling it.”

“Like, right now? Are there pixies in the carburetor or something?” she glanced at the air vents accusingly.

“Back at the restaurant. There was something strange, you said.”

“Yeah, a whiff of what I thought… was Dragon,” she said. She focused on the road with a frown.

“Me, too. Hey, you could be my Dragon detector. You’ll have to make some kind of neat alarm noise or something.”

She made a sound something like a dolphin approximating a whinney, which was a strange thought because why would sea creatures ride horses?

“I don’t know if I can make that noise again,” she admitted.

“You mean the `Flipper appreciating a drive-through showing of `Black Beauty” thing you had going on there?”

She laughed. “Um, yeah. Anyway, I don’t know if that hair-rising on the back of my neck feeling combined with something hiding in the pit of my stomach with a weird tingly static thing is necessarily confined only to the presence of Dragons.”

“Could be worse,” I quipped. “Could be love.”

She looked at me, and then put her eyes back to the road. “No, I know what that feels like. What about you? Ever been in love?”