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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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