This 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?”
“Well, we’ll find out before too long. He’s got to stop pretending he’s still asleep though.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“By helping us tell our stories.” Auntie Bones settled into a more serious tone, looking at Kevin intently. It was unsettling.
“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.