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(Friday Fiction) A Formal Introduction

Writing 150This week I wanted to focus more on a graceful exit for my stories. A lot of them just stop, or I hastily construct a way for things to end when I feel the need to wrap things up. To be honest, it’s kind of sloppy and I need to get better at it. Most of the time my ideas come with a really strong starting point, but I honestly have no idea what to do for an ending. So now’s the time to focus on that.

This week, Kevin meets a few more people who live in the mysterious house across the street.

“What did you do?” The voice of an old woman was the first thing Kevin heard when he came to. A lightning bolt of pain crashed through his forehead, convincing him to keep his eyes closed for the time being.

“Nothing!” A younger woman replied. It took him a moment to recognize Tefir; the steely poise in her words were gone, replaced by the affronted exasperation of every teenager Kevin had ever met.

“Lianna?” The old woman pulled someone into the room with her tone.

Lianna’s voice was shockingly close. “Nothing happened, Mistress. They were just talking, and then he saw me.”

“Oh, so you’re gonna believe her and not me?” Tefir sounded angry and hurt.

“Mmmm, and you know exactly why, Tefiretti, Teller of Tales.”

“How many times am I going to have to say I’m sorry about that whole thing before you forgive me?”

“Oh, child, I already forgave you. But I ain’t forgotten about it. I told you how it is with trust, Teffie. Once you break it, it’s never going to be fixed all the way. And this is too important for me not to be sure. If it makes you feel better, I’m sorry for not believing you.”

“It doesn’t,” Tefir said, though it obviously did. “I don’t think he’s one of us. He doesn’t look or feel any different.”

“No, but he’s got the blood.”

“How can you tell?”

“You could too if you stop being so standoffish and look at him. Probably an uncle or a grandfather. You know his kin?”

“No’m.”

“Well, we’ll find out before too long. He’s got to stop pretending he’s still asleep though.”

“What?”

“He woke up a few minutes ago, but he’s being smart about it. Ain’t you, Colin?” The old woman laughed, and Kevin felt a light, but firm, punch on his shoulder.

“His name is Kevin.” Tefir punched him again. “Hey. Wake up. How come you didn’t tell me you’ve got the blood?”

Kevin opened his eyes. Tefir was hovering above him to his right, while a short, wizened woman peered down at him from his left. Next to her was the gigantic, shaggy head of the lioness, burning gold irises fixed on him with a predator’s intensity. The women both had stars in their eyes, which were big and black and swirling with glittering specks.

Kevin forced down the panic rising in his stomach. This wasn’t a dream. This was really happening.

“Hey,” Tefir said, and leaned down to stare. “How come you didn’t tell me you had kin?”

“I…don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kevin shook his head, like it would clear the dull throbbing ache making his thoughts slow and obscure. He tilted to his side to get up, but the old woman’s hand pushed him back down with surprising strength. “I have no idea what either of you are saying. Got the blood? What the hell is that?”

The old woman swatted his chest. “Language.”

“Sorry, ma’am.” Kevin apologized automatically.

“It’s all right, young man. You all shook up, ain’t you?” She smiled, her mouth rubbery and wide, teeth impossibly white and even. “That’s all right. You’re gonna be OK.”

“Wait. Where–”

“You’re in my house, in a guest room. We had Lianna pull you in and upstairs so we could have a look at you.” The old woman glanced at the lion, who narrowed her eyes. “You a bit too heavy for one of us to carry. For both of us, probably.”

Kevin relaxed. “What happened?”

“You fell down the stairs,” Tefir said.

“Because you had a big ass lion on your porch!”

“Language, young man. I’m not gonna warn you again.” The threat in the old woman’s voice was vague, but solid.

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” the lion spoke. Her voice was smooth and human. It was like she was a cartoon character with some celebrity saying her lines. “My name is Lianna. I’m the guardian for the Wayfarer House.”

“The what?”

Tefir, Lianna and the old woman glanced at each other, asking a silent question Kevin couldn’t even hope to guess at. The old woman spoke first. “Why don’t you two go back out on the porch? I’ll finish up here.”

“Couldn’t I tell him?” Tefir’s face pleaded with the old woman, who shook her head. She sucked her teeth and walked out. The lion padded out behind, her flanks noisily brushing the door frame. Only when the lion’s tail curled around the door knob to pull it shut did the woman turn her attention back to Kevin.

“You’re gonna have a lot of questions, but I ain’t gonna be able to give you a whole lot of answers yet.” The old woman patted his arm, then reached behind her to pull up a chair. “Sorry about that, but that’s the way it is. I’ll tell you what I can, but I can only tell you everything after you settle in a spell.”

Kevin blinked and shifted, rising until he was at least leaning against the headboard. “I’m…ma’am, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I promise I won’t tell anybody about your lion or whatever. I’ll go back home and leave you folks alone.”

The old woman shook her head and grinned. “Nah, you ain’t. You can’t, not now. But that’s OK; we’re gonna show you a thing or two to get your feet underneath you, and then you can decide what you want to do.”

“I want to go home.”

The woman laughed. “Oh, child, bless your heart! Nothing’s stopping you, but you’re gonna see stuff over there that don’t make no sense either, and if you tell your ma about it she’s just gonna think you’re crazy. You better just drink your tea and listen to what I have to say.”

Kevin didn’t know how he knew, but he looked to the bedstand at his left knowing that there was a cup there. He took it, and smelled it, then tasted it. He pictured scruffy, waxy plants stretched out over a sun-baked landscape at once, and the vivid nature of the image disturbed him more than anything.

“Good, ain’t it?” The woman smiled. “It’ll help with the headache. Now, people call me Auntie Bones, and that’s what I want you to call me, got it? I know you’ve got to be wondering why my eyes are all swirly and what not, so let’s start there.

“You might have guessed this already, but I ain’t fully human. Neither is Teffie. We got stories inside us, you see — real, honest-to-God magic. Now, a story only works if you believe in it, which is why we keep to ourselves for the most part. People ain’t got time for that kind of stuff any more. But some people, some of you got this itch, or catch a scent on the wind, or something, that leads you here. For you, that means somebody in your family is just like us, and a little bit of that found its way inside of you. That’s what we mean when we say you got the blood. You ain’t fully human, either.”

Kevin heard the words, but he couldn’t accept them. Everything about the room — the size of it, and the lights, and the bed he was on — felt unreal. Some large part of his brain wanted to reject what the old woman was saying immediately, but there was some small part that wouldn’t let him. It was crazy, and he knew it. But he believed her.

“What, so you’re an alien?” The only beings Kevin ever saw with eyes like her were those aliens on those UFO shows.

“Mm-mm, child. Well, not the way you’re thinking. But we don’t really belong here. And we can’t get home. So we make do. And people like you help us do that.”

“How?”

“By helping us tell our stories.” Auntie Bones settled into a more serious tone, looking at Kevin intently. It was unsettling.

“That’s it?”

“Child, the story’s all we got. It’s the whole reason we’re here. If you don’t help us tell it, we forget it, and a whole piece of the world dies right then and there.”

Kevin looked down at his teacup. He was shocked to find it was empty. He didn’t even like the taste of it that much. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Auntie Bones sagged in her chair. “Not now. But it will. In the meantime, you’re hired. I want you back here tomorrow morning for training.”

“Wait, what?” Kevin blinked and sat up.

The old woman laughed and got to her feet, shuffling towards the door. “I like you, Kevin. You don’t know nothing, but I like you. See you tomorrow, hear? Now, stay as long as you want, but you should be feeling better about now. When you’re ready to go, just open the door and go down the stairs. Try not to fall.”

Kevin sat back against the headboard as the cackle of Auntie Bones echoed outside of the room. The cup in his hands was curiously warm, and when he looked down at it he nearly spilled the tea all over his lap. He wanted to throw it across the room; this was like that black magic his mother had warned him about. Instead, he took another sip, trying to calm his jangled nerves.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) The Wayfarer House

Gaming 150Now that the 20th anniversary edition of Changeling: the Dreaming has dropped, it’s time to start re-establishing the setting! Hooray! C20 updates the Kithain for the modern world, progressing the story from the classic World of Darkness and cleaning up a lot of the squishier ideas that never quite got hammered out in 2nd Edition. 

Going back to Baltimore got me thinking about what modern-day Changeling would look like in the Duchy of the Chesapeake. Here’s a first pass at an idea for a freehold in the heart of West Baltimore.

It didn’t matter how early you got up in the summer; the day was going to get started without you. That’s why the sunlight was already glinting off the candy wrappers and smashed bottles in the street at 7 in the morning, and why the crickets were already sawing away when Kevin stepped onto his front porch. It wasn’t hot yet, but the insects were warning him already — “Brother, you’d better find some shade in a few hours so you don’t melt.”

Kevin really hated mornings like this one. You couldn’t even enjoy it because you had so much to do before the sun got too high. Neighbors were breaking the unspoken rule that you just didn’t start lawnmowers before nine because they knew now was the only time to do it. Down the block, he could hear Mr. Gordon puttering away on that ancient gas cutter; there was a weed-whacker going one street over; in the distance, someone was taking an electric trimmer to their hedges. The drone of the motors told him the same thing the crickets were, and it made the morning feel urgent, almost panicky. It riled him.

He sat on the railing and watched the neighborhood. There weren’t a lot of people out, but the ones that were moved with purpose. After the sun beat every living thing back to their pockets of shade, the block would be live with people jawing and fanning themselves on the porches. People would go visit each other, especially when a pitcher of lemonade or sweet tea came out, but that was all the movement you would see until the sun went down. Even then, it’d be too hot to do much besides cook a little something or play a quick game of basketball. This day, like so many in July, would be a long, slow torpor punctuated by brief sprints of movement before all of your energy was sapped again. These few hours were all people had to feel like people; it wouldn’t be long before it was too hot to be in the house without an air conditioner, and who could afford one of those?

So people were out, walking to the corner store, or watering their plants, or getting to the gas station or liquor store a few blocks down the road. The only people who were just sitting on the porch were him and the girl across the street at the Hotel.

It was just a house, but everybody called it the Hotel. As far as Kevin knew, only three people lived there — an ancient old lady with glasses that made her look like some kind of beetle; a short woman who never stopped moving or talking, who could go from laughing to murderously angry as fast as you could blink; and a girl, about his age, who carried herself like an honest-to-God princess. The three women had a ton of people over at their place all the time, though. Some were fairly regular, but most weren’t. The only white people Kevin ever saw that weren’t on TV or at the mall were at the Hotel. They would come out on the porch in the evenings and chat, with plates of food or big glasses of something alcoholic probably, and while the faces were mostly different it seemed like all three of them knew every single one.

Kevin had always wondered what was up with the Hotel, but his mother told him to mind his own business when he asked. The women never bothered the neighbors, despite all the traffic, and the neighborhood left them alone in kind. But that didn’t sit right with him. People around these parts were mostly quiet, and mostly private, but everybody still knew everybody else’s business. Nobody knew anything about the women at the Hotel, and nobody seemed the least bit curious about them except him.

He looked up and down the street, but there wasn’t anyone unusual coming or going. It almost never happened, but the girl at the Hotel was completely alone.

Without thinking about it, Kevin got up and walked across the street. He stopped at the iron fence, his hand hovering on the latch. Something in the back of his brain told him that he probably shouldn’t just walk into somebody else’s yard uninvited. So he called up to the girl watching him from the porch.

“Hey. Can I come over?” He instantly regretted asking like that. He was seventeen years old, not seven.

The girl looked at him, her chin held high. Then she looked away and down the street. “I guess.”

Kevin pushed the gate open. The metal wasn’t iron, but it sure looked like it; it was lighter, though, and cool to the touch. He stepped through it and up to the steps while the gate swung shut behind him. “My name’s Kevin. I, uh, live over there.” He pointed to his house, across the street and one lot over.

“I know where you live, Kevin.” The girl was looking at him again. From his spot at the bottom of the stairs, she actually did look kind of royal. She was in a cheap plastic chair, but it might as well have been a throne. “What do you need?”

 

“Nothing.” Kevin smiled, unsure why he was so nervous. “I just wanted to say hey.”

“Oh.” The girl seemed almost disappointed. “Hey.” She looked down the street again, and suddenly broke into a smile.

Kevin stared at her. She was one of those Erykah Badu types, always in form-fitting dresses or pants that looked expensive, hair wrapped in a scarf all bundled up tight. Today’s outfit was a sleeveless dress that was emerald in the shade but a glaring yellow in the sun. Her headwrap matched, and somehow she managed to get long earrings with (probably) fake pearls jangling around a single emerald. She looked pretty tight. Her family must have had money. What did they do in that house?

She looked back his way and he quickly focused on the stairs. He looked back up at her when he thought it was safe. “So what’s your name?”

She looked at him for a moment, like she was judging him. Normally Kevin would have been offended, but here he just felt exposed. “Why don’t you come up on the porch? I’m not going to stab you.”

“I know that.” Kevin smiled again, trying to be friendly but just looking nervous. “I just didn’t want to be rude or nothing.”

“Oh. I said you could come over, though. It ain’t rude to come up on my porch after I invited you.” She looked down the street again. “My name is Tefir.”

“Tefir?” Kevin swirled the syllables around in his mouth and decided he liked them. “What’s that mean?”

“That’s private.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Kevin tried to make out what she was staring at down the street. He thought he saw some lightning bugs in a little swarm, but that didn’t make any sense. It must have been a trick of the light.

“It’s OK. Nothing wrong with being curious.” She smiled at him. “What does Kevin mean?”

“I don’t know. Probably king or something.”

“So you’re a king then?”

“I didn’t say all that.” Was this girl making fun of him or something? What was he doing here? “Just…you know…something cool, like, this big deal that you can’t live up to.”

Tefir laughed. “Not with that attitude. I don’t know what Kevin means either, but I bet it means something like ‘bold’ or ‘seeker’.”

“Yeah? What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know, just a feeling.” Tefir sat back in her chair and folded her hands in her lap. “How come you never asked to come over before now?”

Kevin shrugged. It felt like he was sweating, but it wasn’t hot enough for that. “You always have company.”

Tefir checked him with her eyes. “Yeah, we do. But they’re friendly. I know Ma wouldn’t mind fixing you a plate if you wanted.”

“All right, I’ll come over then.” Kevin heard himself say that before he thought it through. It would be a little hard to explain that to his mom. “Who are all these people who come over, though?”

Tefir shrugged, then looked down the street. “Just some of Ma’s friends is all. She’s been all over, so she knows a lot of people. She gives ’em a place to stay when they’re in town.”

“Yeah? Was your mom in a band or something?”

Tefir laughed. “Naw. Military. Uh, kind of. But she retired and settled down here. I think she misses going different places, but at least different places can come to her now.”

“Doesn’t it feel weird having all these strangers in your house?” Kevin tried to imagine his mother having company every day, and couldn’t see any way it didn’t end with somebody getting killed.

“Mm-mm. It’s fine. I write letters and send emails to people all over the world. I can go anywhere and know that there’s somewhere I can stay if I need to. I like that.”

“So you want to travel?”

Tefir shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I might get my mom’s old job, so I’d pretty much have to.”

Kevin blinked. “I can’t imagine you in the military, though. They wouldn’t allow headwraps.”

“Religious exception.”

“You’re Muslim?”

“No.”

“What then?”

“You wouldn’t have heard of it.”

“Some African thing?”

“Something like that.” Tefir snorted. She looked away from the street and at a corner of her porch, then laughed.

Kevin followed her eyes and screamed. He could have sworn there was nothing there before, but a giant lioness sprawled out in the corner now, so big her forepaws were just a few feet from him though her back was against the railing some twenty feet away. Her tail thumped the porch noisily and she startled at the sound. She rose up on front paws as he scrambled down the stairs; to his amazement, she looked surprised.

“Teffie,” the great cat said, “I think he can see me.”

 

“What the fuck?” Kevin felt like there was a rock in his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. He looked back at Tefir to find that she, too, had changed.

She was taller than before, her bearing regal, almost statuesque. Her skin was a perfect mahogany, and her eyes…her eyes…

They were huge and black, with white flecks inside that swirled and twinkled as he stared. They looked like the sky at night, a milky swirl of stars bending and straightening like a whip cracked in slow motion. They were beautiful and frightening and impossible. Kevin couldn’t look away, but he had to run.

His heel caught air instead of the ground as he tried to back down the steps. He tumbled into the dark before he knew what happened.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2017 in RPGs, Writing

 

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(Writing) Clarion Write-A-Thon, Week 2

Self Improvement 150This summer I’ll be participating in the Clarion Write-A-Thon, a fundraiser for the Clarion Workshop. What is Clarion, you ask? Why, it’s the pre-eminent six-week intensive for budding writers in sci-fi and fantasy and it’s going on RIGHT NOW. The Write-A-Thon takes place during the workshop as a way to encourage writers to…well, do what they do best AND to make sure this wonderful resource is able to attract the very best teachers and students every year. This year, my goal is to write 50,000 words and raise $500 in donations.

In week 1, I raised $125 ($100 in pledges, $25 in donations) and I’ve written 4500 words. Not bad, but I know I can do so much better! If you’re interested in helping out, you can make a pledge (where your final donation is tied to my word count) or a donation at my author’s page here.

Last week was a little crowded. The 4×10 schedule is something I’m still adjusting to, and there were a LOT of calls to Baltimore. Mom is in a rehab center, trying to regain mobility in her hips, and she’s having a rough time. As much as she says she likes being alone, she really does need frequent contact with familiar people and that’s harder to come by where she is. She’s also changed pain medications, so I’m fairly sure there are withdrawal issues there (she was taking prescription codeine). That, combined with loads of free time to ruminate on the loss of her daughter and husband, is just not putting her in a great place.

That’s given me incentive to move forward on a number of things, though. We’re going to have to do something about the house; I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to have someone go through it, room by room, to tidy up and mark everything that is OK for keeping, salvageable, and what should just be tossed. I really need to try and get Mom’s finances in order. There are so many outstanding bills and services that should be scrapped, so I’ll need to make a ton of calls there just to simplify things. And once that’s done, we can turn towards a few long-term projects, like finding an assisted-living home for her and (finally) going through the process of handling the estate and benefits of my missing (and presumed dead) father.

That’s a lot to do over the summer, in addition to building a solid writing practice. But I’m for it! Last week I worked on “Demolition” for the most part, the short story that a generous patron won during the LAST Write-A-Thon I’ve participated in. I finally shaped an outline and are roughly ⅓ done with the first draft. The voice for one of the characters really came into its own in this really fun way, and I’m looking forward to ride that momentum through the end of the story. Hopefully, I’ll be finished with that this week — I’m thinking the final word count for the rough draft will be about 6000-6500 words.

In addition to that, I’ll be working on a few missives here at The Writing Desk. Wednesday, the penultimate set of reviews for DisneyFest will go up, with my take on Big Hero 6, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur. On Friday, the weekly fiction will shine a light on The Wayfarer’s House, a location that I’m building for my Baltimore World of Darkness setting.

All in all, the goal for this week is to bring my word count up to 15,000 (only counting short stories and The Writing Desk entries) and my total donations up to $200. Can I do it? YES I CAN! All that’s left is the doing.

Oh, and since this is my first entry this month, I thought I’d point you lovely folks to my Patreon, the Jackalope Serial Company. For the low low price of $1 per episode, you could receive serials featuring gay furry sci-fi and fantasy! This month’s serial is a “test run” for a shared universe I’d like to build with modern gay folks getting into all kinds of improbable shenanigans!

That’s it for today, now that I’ve spent this entire entry plugging things. See you on Wednesday, folks!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2017 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: The Talk

Writing 150Our protagonist gets a name! I’m still feeling out how being a Changeling would feel in inner-city Baltimore. I think there’s something distinctive about the idea and I’d love to try and capture it. Here, Mr. Foster takes our narrator to McDonald’s for an explanation of what’s going on. Or not.

I don’t know if I’ve ever really SEEN the McDonald’s at Walbrook Junction before. I’ve walked past it all the time, and it’s always been the same place since I was a kid. The outside is the same fake stucco that covers the entire crumbling strip mall, and the inside is this big, open space that is way cleaner than it should be for the neighborhood but still choked with the smell of a generation’s worth of fryer grease and industrial cleaners. The tile is old, the walls are peeling but scrubbed clean, and the chairs are so worn you wouldn’t know foam was in the seat. I had always thought it was a dump, like everything there, even if the owner gave a shit about it being clean.

That was until I went in there with Mr. Foster. When he picked me up at my house, it was in a car that was twice the size I had remembered it being. The dashboard was covered with weird knobs and words in another language, but he drove it just fine. We cruised through my neighborhood, and it was like I was seeing everything for the first time. The trees were bigger and greener. The abandoned house looked like it was alive, sitting back from the street with its mouth wide open like it wanted to eat you. There were rats and cockroaches playing double-dutch on the sidewalk.

Walbrook Junction looked mostly normal, except for that McDonald’s. It was a castle with — I shit you not — an actual moat around it and banners flying and everything. When Mr. Foster walked up to it, a drawbridge just appeared. When he opened the door, one of the old mascots — the bird with the yarn hair — curtseyed and greeted him like he was a visiting noble. “Good afternoon, Sir Baobab,” is what I think she said.

Everybody seemed to know him. He walked up to the counter and the worker there stared up at him. Mr. Foster is a tall dude, but…he was really tall here. His Afro scrunched against the ceiling, and you could hear the horns coming out of his forehead scraping against it. His skin was unnaturally black but kinda brown, like molasses. And his hair was white with little flecks of black in it. That’s not how Mr. Foster looked before. And I had known him for like, five years now.

He ordered two quarter pounders with cheese, two Big Macs, a 20 piece Chicken McNuggets, and the biggest Coke they had. I got a double cheeseburger and a McChicken, then some fries and a milkshake. I don’t know why, but it felt like I had to keep up with him. The way everybody was acting around him, it made me want to live up to something.

We got our food, and he wasn’t charged for it. He told the cashier where we were going to sit (at a table in the corner) and he said “I’ll make sure you aren’t disturbed.” Before we sat down, he took a lima bean out of his pocket and put it on the chair. It sprouted immediately, and a new chair made of vines formed over it, sized up for him. He caught me staring, but he just pointed at me to sit down.

Mr. Foster tore up his food immediately. I couldn’t stop looking around. There was a five-foot squirrel dude mopping the floor and wiping down tables. Every once in a while, a rat walking on its hind legs would walk up to him and he would chitter at it or something, and then it would go off and pick up trash or put balls back in the ball pit.

I’ve been seeing shit like this ever since I got mugged. It’s still straight-up crazy to me, but with Mr. Foster it was the first time it felt like it was a kind of crazy I could live with.

“What do you want to do with your life?” When he spoke, he demanded you listen. He had that kind of voice.

“Uhm, what?” I was distracted by the squirrel-dude, and caught off guard by the question. What did that have to do with anything?

Mr. Foster leaned in and rounded his shoulders. There was a table between us, but I still felt trapped. “I said, what do you want to do with your life?”

I stared at him for a long minute. My mind went blank. Was I supposed to know what I wanted to do with my life when I was just in high school? Wasn’t that what college was for? I reached for anything I could think of, the first thing that came to mind.

“I want to cut hair.” I felt so stupid right after I said it. Mr. Foster lifted his eyebrows, but otherwise he didn’t react.

“Why?”

I shrugged. “It’s cool to just be able to talk to people all day while doing something nice for them.”

Mr. Foster nodded. “You know how to cut hair?”

Oh shit, I didn’t even think of that! I shook my head quickly. “Naw, but I can learn. It looks like something I can get pretty good at.”

“Yeah, you think so, huh?” Now he seemed amused. But not in a way that made me feel bad. “You just need some clippers and a YouTube video, right?”

“Maybe a head to practice on or something, I don’t know.” I returned his smile without knowing why. None of this made sense. Weren’t we supposed to be talking about the fact that all kinds of impossible shit was happening all around us right now? That we were in a McDonald’s that suddenly looked like a castle? That he was some giant unnaturally-colored dude that seemed to pull a lot of respect here? Why were we talking about hair all of a sudden?

“Listen, I got a few friends who could use a haircut.” He shifted in his seat, and the whole thing groaned, vines and all. “I’m going to bring a clipper set over to school tomorrow. It’s yours. And in two weeks’ time, you’re going to come to my house and cut hair. That’s how you’re gonna pay me back. Deal?”

“Uhm. Deal.” I glanced at a small group of rats that seemed to be arguing about a mess on the floor. They were squeaking at each other in these high voices that made it hard to make out what they were saying. “But shouldn’t we be—?”

Mr. Foster put up a big hand to stop me from talking. “You’ll get to talk all you want in a couple of weeks. But if you have questions, you write them down one at a time on this.”

He made a motion like he was sliding something to me across the table. It didn’t look like anything at first, but when I looked down there was a piece of paper there. It was thick, like a page out of an expensive journal or something, colored yellow-brown with all kinds of spots in it. It looked awesome. Too good to write on, even. I gathered it up and slipped it in my backpack, not really sure what to say. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. You write the question, and I’ll see it. I’ll write a response, and you’ll see it on that slip of paper.”

“How?”

“Magic, that’s how.” The look on his face let me know he was giving me a big secret. “It’s like untraceable email, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I still felt weird about all of this, but kind of comfortable. “But what if my parents find it or my sister starts snooping in my room?”

Mr. Foster shook his head. “They won’t see it. Only folks like you and me can. If you want to know what I mean by that, that’s your first question.”

He got up all of a sudden, and it looked like he was going to smash right through the ceiling. But he didn’t. “I’ve got to go, but I want you to know two things. First, you’re not crazy. You’re special. Second, if you ever feel like you’re in danger or this is too much to handle, you come here and ask a cashier to get me. I’ll come as soon as I can, OK?”

I nodded. I didn’t really like it, but I nodded.

“Good.” Mr. Foster grabbed my shoulder when I stood up and squeezed it. “You’re a good kid, Marvin. It’s going to be OK.” He stared at me with those weird blue eyes of his until I believed it.

And then he drove me home.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Changeling: Emergent

Writing 150It was my first day back in school after the mugging, and people were treating me surprisingly well. I guess word had spread about what happened, which was cool, but what was most interesting was how the story changed based on who told it. The teachers talked about how I nearly got away by telling a story about this little Br’er Rabbit figure I had, which is true — I made it up on the spot because I didn’t know what else to do, and all that fear and anger and desperation just came out of me in this huge rush. It felt great. It made me dizzy, and sick, like I was high af. I couldn’t remember what the story was if I wanted to.

If you talk to my classmates, though, they’ll tell you how I started “acting crazy” after the first punch was thrown, speaking in tongues and all that. I was pointing to things that weren’t there, and having conversations with myself, and got in a fight with thin air. The people who attacked me were so confused that they were about to run off until I clocked one of them real good upside the ear. Then they jumped up and beat me down.

That’s true, too, but I don’t like to talk about it.

I’m adopted, and my mother was institutionalized for being a paranoid schizophrenic. When I was in the hospital, there were a lot of doctors who told me that I “had taken a pretty good blow to the head” and to let them know if I started seeing things that weren’t there. I couldn’t tell them that my room was filled with balloons of all sizes and shapes, that somehow managed to change color right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t tell them that these had been brought to me by a bunch of creatures that couldn’t exist — rats in waistcoats, or CPR dummies that told me where all the good drugs were, or an elephant that liked to be the size that would be most disorienting for you. I knew where that road lead, and that was one I wasn’t going to take.

So I pretended everything was fine, and I got pretty good at living a double life. In one of them, I was the victim of a violent crime recuperating from a possible concussion. In the other, I was this storyteller that every imaginary friend in the hospital would come to for advice or jokes they could take back to kids in other wings. I have no idea where these stories came from; it was like there was some doorway inside of me I could access now, and it all came spilling out. I really liked that feeling, and that disturbed me. I knew that I was getting whatever my mother had, and it was only a matter of time before things went bad.

I really did think that would be my first day back in school. There was so much going on I could barely keep it together. I saw a dragon on the roof, casually muttering to itself how these “insects couldn’t appreciate” the value of its own personal “hoard of knowledge”. I think it might have been the mascot for our football team. I saw trees gossiping to each other about who did what and when. There was a tiny bus that my mother nearly ran over, taking rats and squirrels right up to the building. The sky was made of rainbows, a feverish ripple of color that never stayed the same thing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but it was also terrifying.

My aunt thought that I was nervous about being back in school after my whole “incident”, and I was fine with letting her believe that. The walk from the car to the front door was the longest walk of my life.

How do you tell someone that your mind is broken forever? I knew, deep down, that whatever this was wasn’t going away. If I sat down and closed my eyes and told myself that none of it was real, the colors would fade and all of this madness would get harder to see. But it made me feel sick. I was pushing that door of stories further and further away every time I did that, and there was some different part of me that fought against that hard. When the visions came back, they were more intense than ever.

So I was sitting in homeroom, trying to ignore the squirrel seated next to me in a little desk, chattering away about how excited she was to learn about American history from the tree out in the quad. The other students either came up to me to ask if I was all right, or snickered at me for being crazy. I was just getting calmed down when Mr. Foster walked into the room.

Mr. Foster is one of those guys that everybody in your neighborhood knows. He’s been at Highland Park High School forever and taught Social Studies to an entire generation of people around the block. He lived alone, and hung out with a bunch of people way younger than he was, and he had this thing about swords. We started calling him “Ghost Dog” a few years ago, and the name just stuck. He was a tall dude with an Afro and a 70s moustache. He wore a trenchcoat like he was Shaft, even in the summer. He was an awesome guy, but he was easy to make fun of.

At least, until now. He ducked under the doorway and pushed himself into the room. At first, he looked like he always did, but then there was this weird snap, like electricity popping. Then he was eight feet tall and blue, with these little horns and ridges coming out of his forehead. The coffee mug in his hand was this this hammer as big around as my chest. His trenchcoat was this steel suit of armor that shined like lavender when the light hit it.

I startled, and Mr. Foster looked at me. He sputtered, and then stared. He flickered a couple of times, back and forth between the old teacher and this monster dude. But then he stayed there. A rat on his desk asked him who the new kid was, and Mr. Foster flicked his hand like he heard it.

When all of the imaginary rodents at the edges of the room piped up with a “Good morning, Mr. Foster!” and he grunted in acknowledgement, I knew that he was seeing and hearing the same things I was. And I have no idea how that’s true.

But if I was crazy, then so was he. We shared the same visions. And if he could somehow live his life outside of an insanitarium then he had to teach me how.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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