Changeling: the Dreaming is a tabletop role-playing game where you play one of the Kithain, half-fae/half-human creatures who struggle to keep imagination alive in an increasingly banal, hostile world. I created Carver “Bunkin” Johnson for the game’s recent Twentieth Anniversary Edition, and thought it might be fun to imagine him in his native Baltimore during the near-future where climate change is beginning to flood the decomposing city. You know, for varying values of ‘fun’.
Carver laid out the contents of his backpack on his bed and considered what would be absolutely necessary to bring along with him. He had to travel light so he could grab as much as he could at the library, and he hated to think about the possibility of leaving a book behind because he brought some useless thing or another. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to get down to the main branch again before it closed; this was his one shot to make sure the most important texts were rescued.
The basement of the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Branch was already flooded. He heard that most of the old reference section — ancient encyclopedias and specialized primers on everything from Baltimore’s history to its surviving public records — were damaged beyond repair. Vast sections of the city’s knowledge about itself were lost, now, and chances are they could never be replaced. History would become heresay, whispered down the generations in obscure corners of the city’s families. But the truth…the truth would never be known.
Carver sighed deeply and stroked his long ears to soothe himself. As a Pooka, he had a different relationship with the truth than most. Still, the truth was the template one used to build the more entertaining stories that were his bread and butter. It showed him which parts to exaggerate for effect, which parts to contradict, which parts to move. The truth, after all, often didn’t inspire people to listen to their better angels. Stories did that. But even the best stories needed something true for their foundations; without it, there was nothing to tie flights of fancy to.
The stimulation of the short fur at his eartips made him feel a little better. He opened his eyes and looked at his collection. There was his laptop, his prized possession, far too important to risk being stolen or damaged by water. He set that aside, along with the power cord and mouse. There were four books — a fantasy novel, an anthology of post-apocalyptic short stories, a collection of essays about growing up in the city, and his journal. He kept the essays and journal; he’d need to keep himself entertained on the way there, and you never knew when a drawing or random factoid would come in handy.
Then there were the odder things: three chunks of concrete a bit smaller than his palm; a neon plastic toy that you held in your hand and shook to knock balls at the end of two hinges together; a sheet of molded, transparent plastic roughly five by eight inches; a Crown Royal bag filled with dice and marbles; a plastic sword that looked like it might be a cocktail stirrer for giants. These would be nothing more than trash for most folks, but for Carver they were extremely helpful tools for dealing with the odd runaway dream you sometimes found in the city streets. He kept the concrete, the knocker, the magnifying sheet and the Crown Royal bag — they could be stuffed anywhere in the gaps between books on the way back, if it came to that.
Carver took the rest to an ancient rolltop desk in the corner of his room and squirreled the items away. Then, he turned his back and named every other scrap of furniture in his room out loud. With luck, the desk was protected from anyone who might snoop in his room. It had been a while since Mom had let strangers into the house, but you could never be too careful.
She was in her usual spot on the couch in the living room downstairs. The front door was already open in a vain attempt to cool the place down; a standing fan blew in the cooler air from the covered porch out front, while a box fan ushered out the hot air from the kitchen. That was the theory anyway, but to Carver it just carried the smell of the neighborhood into the house. He wrinkled his nose as he thumped downstairs, his backpack hanging loose from his shoulders. It was only 8 in the morning and the trash in the street smelled like it had been baking for an hour or so. Today would be brutally hot.
“Where you going?” His mother looked at him in the hallway, obviously dressed to go out. “You gonna get me some crabs?”
She was a small but indestructible woman. Her bony limbs and paper-thin skin belied a tireless, patient strength and remarkable resilience — at least physically. Over the years she had gotten more forgetful and confused, unable to keep names and dates straight. Recently, she kept….travelling to other places in her own mind. There was no telling who she thought he was, or where she thought she might be.
Carver smiled at her, swallowing the lump in his throat. The truth was he was losing her, bit by bit. Every day, the fog separating her from reality grew a little more impenetrable. One day, she would disappear entirely behind the glassy expression in her eyes. The story he wove from that truth was that she was preparing to go on a long vacation, and she was taking out the best memories from long-term storage to pack with her. It was his job to help her pick the best ones and fold them well.
“That’s right, Mom,” he said. “Only a few this time, though. We can’t have the whole place stinking like Old Bay and Rolling Rock.”
She laughed, and he broke into a relieved grin. She was with him today. “You know I can eat a dozen of them. Pick me up half a watermelon, too, you hear?”
Carver nodded slowly, revising his mental map to swing by Lexington Market on his way home. “You got it. I’ll be back by this afternoon.”
He watched as she sunk into the couch, her attention stolen by the old movie about a Mormon miracle playing on one of the few channels she could get clear. “You’d better. You know I don’t like being by myself at night.”
Carver did know. The night was when Mom’s brain turned sour, and what feverish nightmares she had stepped out of her head into the shadows. Sometimes, he thought she knew when it would happen. He considered this a warning.
“I won’t. I love you, Mom.”
His ear flicked at her mumbled response, and he stepped out into the day. Carver Johnson was left packed away in his rolltop desk. He was now Bunkin, Savior of Knowledge and Servant of Muninn. He had a job to do, and it would take all of his courage and cleverness to avoid highwaymen, bandits, floods and unhelpful, unpredictable caravans to his destination. He traded one set of worries for another. Life was hard, and living a double life was so much harder.