Vampire Code: Ada Complex

vc1301

“Cowabunga!” yelled Rocket, after he ditched his clothes and ran naked towards the boardwalk in the Spice District.

“Oh, to be three and free!” said their ama. “Shall we join him?” And she made to take off her own shirt.

“No!” yelled Sparkroot and Florinda together, and everybody laughed. Everyone except their ada, that is, who looked on with a scowl and furrowed brows.

When Rocket turned and raced back towards them, their ama scooped him up in her arms and rustled him back into his otter t-shirt and orange dungarees. “That’s my wild child!” she said.

The family crossed the street to the square.

Their friend Semperviren’s grandpa was playing his fancy guitar, and Sparkroot and Florinda danced.

“Come dance, Rocket!” Sparkroot called to his little brother.

But before Rocket could join them, their ada hissed, “Where do you think you’re going, young man?”

Sparkroot ran towards his brother but was stopped when his ada yelled. “I’ll not have you dancing like a hooligan! You are still grounded for your antics, you renegade!”

Rocket looked up at their ada.

“I not bad! I good!”

“You’re bad if I say so, ” said their ada. He laughed, and looked down at his youngest son who stood glaring up at him.

Sparkroot thought their ada looked proud. But their ama looked sad, hurt, angry, and disappointed, all at the same time.

vc1302

Sparkroot felt the black slug twist and turn and squeeze his stomach, and the badger started gnawing his heart again.

He remembered how excited he’d felt yesterday when he asked Ama if the whole family, even Ada, could go together to the Spice District.

He’d thought out what he’d say so carefully. First, he’d say that it was most fun when they were all together. And then, he’d say that, really, it was good for them to spend more time with Ada, and it was really good when they all spent it together, and couldn’t they please go? Rocket would want to.

vc1213

After he said it all, just like he planned, Ama was quiet. She still looked at her book, but Sparkroot knew she was thinking.

“I’d be happy to take you kids myself,” she said at last.

“But what if we go as a family?” Sparkroot asked. “Can’t we?”

And she was quiet for a while, and Sparkroot could see his ama thinking it through, and at last, she said, quietly, “Ok. Let’s give it a try.”

“Oh, Ama!” Sparkroot said. “Thank you! We’ll have so much fun! I promise!”

vc1214

And now, they weren’t having fun, and his ama was sad and mad and all those things, and Rocket was glaring at their ada, and Ada just smiled like everything was OK, and Sparkroot had broken his promise, because they weren’t having fun at all.

“Sparkie, will you take Rocket over to the vendor’s stall to get a snack? Anything he wants. He’s hungry, and I want to talk to your ada alone.”

She gave him some money, and he and Rocket veered towards the vendor, but slowly, so that Sparkroot could hear what his ama said.

vc1303

“Brennan, I’m not happy with you yelling at our kids,” she said.

“That’s nothing!” said their ada. “Why! When I was a boy, that would’ve been a sign of affection, of caring.”

And then Rocket ran off towards the basketball court, and Sparkroot had to chase him, so he didn’t get to hear what else they said.

Their ada had left by the time Sparkroot and Rocket returned with their snack.

They didn’t see Ada for a while after that.

Then one afternoon, Ama took them all to Old Town to buy Florinda her first pair of ballet shoes, and when they went into the store to try them on, Rocket began racing around making a loud train noise.

“Do you want to play, Rocket?” Ama asked.

“Train late!” Rocket yelled. “Back on schedule! Woot!”

“I’ll take him out to the square!” Sparkroot volunteered. “We can play there while you buy Flor her slippers.”

Florinda stood transfixed by the display of pink, white, black, and red ballet slippers. “They’re so beautiful!” she sighed, stroking the leather of a sky-blue pair.

“OK, Sparkie,” Ama said. “Have fun and meet us by the café in half an hour, and we’ll have bread and chocolate!”

“Milky-tea!” shouted Rocket.

Sparkroot placed his hands on Rocket’s shoulders, and together they chug-chugged out of the shop and onto the sidewalk.

Rocket followed the lines in the pavement, like a good engine, huffing and hooting. And then, he stopped, right outside of the pub.

“Ada!” he shouted. “Ada!”

He ran inside, and Sparkroot ran after him.

Their ada sat on a barstool, talking to Anderson, a friend of Semperviren’s mom.

“You really should take the Loogaroo Express,” their ada said to Anderson. “There are plenty there in Forgotten Hollow who’d like to see you. Plenty.”

vc1215

“Hi, Ada,” said Rocket.

“Oh, hello, son,” said their ada. “Hello, Sparkroot.”

Sparkroot waved, and Ada continued talking to Anderson.

“A young person like you, you’d find a warm welcome, that’s for sure! In fact, there are some unique opportunities there for someone like you.”

“Not Loogaroo,” said Rocket. “No Hollow. Loogaroo not good, Anderson. Loogabad.”

Ada turned and opened his mouth.

vc1216

“Come on, Rocket!” said Sparkroot. “No-face is here!”

They saw the hooded man that Rocket and Florinda had met before, sitting in a chair in the corner of the pub. He had been turned towards Ada and Anderson, as if he’d been listening in.

“No-face Guy!” Rocket said, and he ran towards him singing and clapping. “Dance, No-Face!”

vc1217

Sparkroot, Rocket, and No-Face danced until Sparkroot remembered the time.

“We gotta go, Rocket,” he said. “Bye, Ada!”

“Bye, No-Face,” said Rocket. “Bye, Ada!”

“Bye, sons,” said their Ada, turning back to Anderson.

“No Loogaroo, Anderson!” said Rocket, as the boys left the pub.

When they met their sister and ama at the café, Florinda cradled a white shoe box. “I got the blue pair,” she whispered to Sparkroot.

“Do you love them?” he asked her, and she nodded. “You’ll dance like a princess,” he whispered.

“Like a superhero,” she whispered back.

That evening, Miss Penguin dropped by their home for a visit. 

“Your husband has done the most amazing thing for this region,” she told their ama. “That Loogaroo Express is the best thing to happen in a long time! Why, I ride it three or four times a week! I just can’t get enough of Forgotten Hollow!”

“No Hollow!” said Rocket. “Loogabad!”

vc1304

Miss Penguin described the quaint architecture, the dark woods, the interesting people, the culture, but Rocket would have none of it.

“No go,” he said. “Loogabad.”

Sparkroot had to agree. The train itself was exciting, with the leather seats, zipping speeds, and, of course, the hot chocolate. But he’d be happy if he never set foot in Forgotten Hollow again.

Just thinking about it, connected to Windenburg by the line his ada had been in charge of constructing, was enough to get the badger biting.

He tried to forget about that dark valley, now a short ride away. Especially at night, when he lay down in the tiny room at the top of the stairs that he shared with Florinda, he tried to put the Loogaroo out of his mind.

When he had trouble banishing the image of the train and the valley it led to, he would imagine instead something he’d seen one day when he was walking back home after visiting Sempervirens.

At the bend in the road, he’d come upon his ama, playing on her fiddle a tune that Sugar taught her. He stopped to watch and listen.

It was a good song, full of old-fashioned riffs and turns, and it sounded like a cross between a jig and a promenade. And when he heard it, he felt brave inside and safe.

He asked his ama about the song that evening, when she tucked him in.

“It’s an old protection song,” she said.

“Will you play it often?” Sparkroot asked.

“I will,” she replied, “and I do.”

She kissed him on the forehead, and hummed the song as she walked back downstairs to tuck in Rocket, and while Sparkroot fell asleep, he imagined her standing at the bend of the road, playing with all her heart, to keep the bad things out.

vc1218

<< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>

Vampire Code: Rocket the Vampire Slayer

vc813

Eyes store power. Even babies know this. Watch them track the gaze of an adult. They understand it’s through our eyes we shoot energy, and they haven’t forgotten that energy is pure light.

Cathy returned from her conference with onezero’s one thousand mothers carrying the knowledge that her and Brennan’s son Rocket had come here for a reason. When worlds connect through rifts in oak and granite or lines forged from steel, sometimes an unexpected hero answers the call.

It would likely be years before he’d be pulled into action, this she understood, but nevertheless, it was time now to get him ready for what would come.

Cathy spent hours each day with him. While the twins formed their own universe of stories, jokes, and make-believe, Cathy taught Rocket to dance, sing, talk, count, name the birds, chase the crickets, and follow trails in the morning dew.

vc701

He required extra sleep each day to absorb all he was taking in.

While Rocket napped, Cathy spent time individually with Sparkroot or Florinda. Even then, the conversation often turned towards Rocket.

“Can you guess what he do, Ama?” Sparkroot asked.

“He who, Sparkie?”

“He Rocket. Know what he did? He climbed the tree.”

“Mmm. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“Naw. It was fine! He climbed up and then he climbed down again, and then he climbed up and down.”

“Did you ask him what for?” Cathy asked.

“Yeah. He said ‘High’s good.’ He likes to go up.”

vc802

Sparkroot took his big brother duties seriously. He read to Rocket from his homework book while Rocket slept, “so he’ll get a head start on history.”

vc803

He held long, involved conversations with him, somehow managing to decipher Rocket’s invented language.

vc804

One afternoon, when Cathy needed to take Sparkroot in to San Myshuno to pick out a new violin, Brennan offered to watch Florinda and Rocket.

“That would be great,” Cathy said. “Give you a chance to see your other kids.”

Brennan, who made no secret that Sparkroot was his favorite, spent little time with his daughter and youngest son.

“We’ll have a blast,” Brennan said. “I’ve got it all planned out.”

He didn’t tell Cathy he’d be taking his children to the Rattlesnake Lounge for Guys’ Night Out.

She got the story from Florinda the next day.

vc805

“We had a blast, Ama!” Florinda said. “There was this guy with no face in the monk’s robe. And Jade was there! He’s got a cool hat. Do you think Rocket should get a hat like that?”

“He could if he wanted,” Cathy said. “So what did you do there?”

vc806

“Oh, I told jokes. You know Little Green’s uncle J.P,? He was there!”

“And did they like your jokes?” Cathy asked her daughter.

“Oh, sure. I told the one about ‘How did the vampire die? He accidentally ordered stake and eggs for breakfast!'”

vc807

“That’s not a bad joke, Flor.”

“Well, Jade thought it was stupid. ‘They don’t die by eating,’ he said. Then the no-face guy said the undead can’t become dead but they can become nothing, and J.P. said nothing is worse than death.”

vc808

“He’s got a point,” Cathy said.

“Then, I asked the no-face guy how someone becomes undead, and he said, it wasn’t really the kind of question a little girl should be asking, but if I wanted to check back with him in ten years, he’d be glad to explain.”

vc809

“And where was your ada during all this?” Cathy asked.

“Oh, he was at the bar, laughing with guys,” Florinda answered.

vc811

“And where was Rocket all this time?”

“Oh, I didn’t see him when No-Face and I were talking. I think maybe he was outside running around. But No-Face told me something interesting. He said my little brother was the one who understood better about undead, dead, and nothing than anybody. And if I really wanted to know, I could ask him, once he learned how to talk. But when I asked him how he knew my little brother, he wouldn’t answer. He said some mysteries best stay mysterious. What do you think, Ama?”

vc812

“I think I should call your ada and have a word or two. I’m not sure about Rocket running around unsupervised.”

“But he wasn’t unsupered all the time!” Florinda said. “He came inside and said, ‘Aba too kay’ to Ada, and Ada understood and got him milk in a sippy cup!”

vc816

“Well, that’s something,” Cathy said.

“Then Rocket came and sat by me and Anderson–you know him, right? He’s a friend of Little Green’s mom from way back.”

vc817

“Sure, Anderson, Wade, and Jade were the park boys,” Cathy said. “And did Rocket behave?”

“Oh, yeah! He told us a story about something. I could only understand ‘Quacker doo-doo’ and ‘puffer stuffy.'”

vc818

“It must have been a troll story,” Cathy said.

“Yeah, that’s what I figure,” said Flor. “So Ada came with his coffee and I told the story about the troll under the bridge, and everybody loved it!”

vc819

“Did you have fun, though, Flor? It sounds like kind of a weird evening.”

“Oh, Ama!” replied Flor. “I had so much fun! I never had funner! And Rocket had fun, too, even though he was outside running around half the time. I told Ada that I want me and Rocket to come to every Guys’ Night Out, and next time, you and Sparkie can come, too, and we can have the Stuckey-Tea Family Night at Guys’ Night!”

vc814

“Well, that could be our new tradition, I suppose,” Cathy said.

“And maybe No-Face and J.P. will be there,” said Flor, “and all the guys. And it’ll be just as great as it was last night.”

vc815

<< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>

Vampire Code: Direct Line

The Third Movement of New World Symphony

vc201

“It’s done!” Brennan said.

“It’s complete? Congratulations!” Cathy replied.

vc212

For the past three years, Brennan Stuckey had been in charge of the Loogaroo Express, a new line of Five-World Rails, connecting a remote village in the Windenburg Alps to the greater San Myshuno megalopolis.

During the span of this project, the Stuckey-Tea family had grown. The baby was born from love, for in spite of differences, spats, and separate living arrangements, affection between Brennan and Cathy endured.

Their twins, Florinda and Sparkroot, embraced the idea of being the big siblings when Mom explained why her belly was so huge.

vc216

Cathy sought the usual blessings from Sugar, onezero, and Jacklyn, the three wise women who were sure to bring every child safely into the world.

“It’s a boy!” predicted Sugar.

vc217

“He’s a wild one,” said onezero.

vc215

“What will you name him?” asked Jacklyn.

“Rocket,” said Cathy.

“Rocket?”

vc214

Cathy nodded towards the spaceship in corner of their lot, and Jacklyn, perceiving her meaning, blushed.

“Well, it beats Closet!” laughed Jacklyn.

“Or Shower!” said Cathy.

“Bush!” They both collapsed in laughter.

“Speaking of Bush!” screamed Cathy. “Oh, my bladder!”

Rocket, indeed a wild child, learned to walk before he could crawl.

vc220

His big sister, Florinda, loved him, for she could tell him all her stories, and sometimes, he even sat still to listen.

vc222

And his big brother, Sparkroot, doted on him. They played together for hours each day.

vc221

The family felt complete, even though Brennan still lived in his own antiseptic house in another town.

The kids rarely saw their father, but it hardly mattered, for their little home on the hill in Windenburg nestled into its own little world.

Brennan called when he felt like it, took his wife on dates at the conjuncts of his free time and her inclination, and boasted of his A-student children and precocious toddler.

vc202

“I want Sparkroot to go with me on the inaugural train,” Brennan said.

“What about Flor?” Cathy asked.

vc213

“Erm, no,” replied Brennan. “It’s not a place for women or girls. I won’t have you going there, ever, and not my daughter, either. And, by the way, did you plant that garlic like I asked?”

She had.

“In a circle around the home?” He inquired.

“In a circle, just like you said.” Some of Brennan’s commands, Cathy followed, if they seemed like fun to her. And planting garlic was definitely fun. Others, like where she could go and when she could go there, she let dangle through the air, until the vibrations of his voice faded, and with them, any remnants of command. She may have married the devil, but she certainly didn’t need to obey his dictates.

“Right. So have the boy ready at noon,” Brennan said.

“The boy? You mean our son?”

“Exactly,” said Brennan. “My firstborn.”

“Well,” she said, “technically Florinda was born first.”

They hung up before an argument could ensue.

vc203


The moment Sparkroot stepped off the train, all the excitement of the speeding scenery, the steaming cup of hot chocolate, the leather smell of fancy seats, and the funny, bouncing, zipping, electric sensation of movement on a fast rail, evaporated.

Sparkroot didn’t feel so good.

vc204

“I don’t like it here, Ada,” he stated.

“What don’t you like? History? Culture? Tradition? The old ways? What’s with you, boy?”

But a giant black slug was squeezing Sparkroot’s stomach and badgers were gnawing his heart.

“It doesn’t feel good,” he said.

vc205

“Nonsense,” replied Brennan.

They walked around the central square, Brennan pointing out the historical features, and Sparkroot holding his stomach and counting backwards from a hundred to keep from crying.

“Everyone here works for me,” Brennan said.

“Really?”

“Well, not technically. But they all work for who I work for, and I’m his right-hand man, so, in practice, yes. When you’re the boss’s Second-in-Command, everyone who works for the boss, works for you.”

Somehow, that news made the badger gnaw harder and the slug squeeze tighter.

When they arrived back where they started, Brennan said, “I’ve got to see a man.”

“What for?”

“Work.”

“Do I come with you?” Sparkroot asked.

“No, boy,” said Brennan. “You wait here.”

“It’s dark,” said Sparkroot.

“There are streetlamps,” said Brennan. “If you get bored, play chess.” He pointed at the chess tables standing in the courtyard.

“When will you be back?” Sparkroot asked.

“When I am.”

His father headed up the cobbled path through the drooping forest.

Sparkroot looked down the empty streets.

vc206

He sang the alphabet backwards. He named every color he could think of. Magenta. Puce. Marine. Indigo. Azure. Cerulean. Aqua-verdigo-chartreuse-rose-violet-sienna-umber-purple: which was probably just another word for black.

He rattled off every word he could think of for light: Brightness; Shiny; Sparkly; Spark; lumen-something; Glowy; Blazing; Bright White; Sunshine.

His stomach started to feel a little bit better.

Since his dad still hadn’t returned, he set out after him. It was getting late.

vc207

I can do this! He thought. The street lights glimmered hopefully. He raised his chin, whistled, and marched. I’m a soldier in the Light Brigade!

vc208

The path stretched forever into darkness. The drooping trees gave way to barren branches. The lights became sparse.

His legs grew heavy, and the slug tightened its hold, and the badger began to gnaw again.

At this time of evening, back home, Mom would be reading Rocket his bed-time story. Florinda would sit outside the room, with the door open, pretending to do her homework, while really listening to “The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.”

Oh, if only he were home right now!

vc209

He passed a lone street lamp. Instead of cheering him, the faint glow filled him with dread. He could barely look where it shone, for mists covered a field of tombstones.

vc210

When at last he did look up, two burning eyes bore down on him. A creature arced his wings and opened a fanged mouth.

vc211

When the monster hissed, Sparkroot turned and ran as fast as he could all the way back to the town square.

He hopped on the first train and texted his father.

tk trn home. Am OK. Bye.

<< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >>

New World Symphony: The Goat-Hoofed Man

goat03

“We have the same hair!” Florinda said to Jaclyn.

“Of course we do,” replied Jaclyn.”We come from the same stock, sure as can be!”

goat02

“How about me?” said Sparkroot, hopping up onto the stool next to his sister. “I come from the same stock, too!”

goat04

“Not you!” said Jaclyn. “You come from wizardry!”

“Yeah!” replied Sparkroot. “Like magic, huh?”

goat05

Just then Brennan stopped by. He’d called to check up on the babies, and Cathy invited him over. “You’ll be surprised,” she told him.

“Surprised by our little family? Why, nothing my loved ones could do would surprise me,” he answered with a laugh.

But when he entered the kitchen, he jumped.

“Whoa! What happened to my peanuts?” he said.

“Ada!” said Sparkroot. “It’s just me!”

goat06

“What was your ada like?” Florinda asked Jaclyn. “Is he like my ada?”

Jaclyn laughed. “My ada was a funny little fellow. Not that much taller than you and Sparkroot, actually, with a long wooly brown beard and hands like a little bear’s!”

goat07

“Tell us more about your ada!” said Sparkroot.

“One day, my ada took a walk in the woods. Usually, his trail led him through the woods and into the meadow. But one day, the woods kept going further and further, darker and darker, until my ada looked around and he was quite lost in the mist of the forest.

“He heard a rumble and a crack, like the sound of a great tree-trunk splitting open, and then, he heard a violin.

“‘I ain’t a feared a no wobbly music!’ my ada said. But this was no ordinary music. This was a tune that had the power to take ahold of a man and never let him go. This was music that could dance a man to bits!”

goat09

Sparkroot hung on every word. How could a man get danced to bits? And who could play such powerful music?

“My ada stared, and this man in a long coat the color of wine began to walk right towards him, playing the violin the whole time. He had a dark beard, this man did, and eyes shone brighter than the sun itself.”

goat08

“Oh, Jaclyn,” interrupted Brennan, “You look mighty cute when you tell that tale. Maybe sometime you could tell me a bed-time story.”

Florinda laughed. “Anybody would be the luckiest of all to have Jaclyn tell the goodnight story!”

goat10

“Now, Brennan Stuckey,” said Jaclyn, “I’ll not have you interrupting my story just because it makes you nervous to hear about a mysterious man in a wine-colored coat with eyes brighter than the sun. And I’ll certainly not sit by quietly while you interrupt me with a lame old flirt, Mr. Tea. That’s quite enough from you, sir.”

goat11

Florinda hopped down to see if her violin were in tune, and Sparkroot jumped right up into the empty stool, so he could hear the story all the better.

“Go on!” he said. “What happened next?”

“Why, next,” said Jaclyn, “that swarthy gypsy man, for that’s who he was, began to play the violin, faster and faster, and my ada began to get all turned around and snarly-brained.”

goat12

“The gypsy man played into the dark, and my ada kept dancing, around and around that old cracked oak tree. And in the darkest part of the night, the bears came out, drawn by the music, circling and circling.”

goat13

“All night long, the gypsy played, the bears circled, and my ada turned and danced and grew dizzier and dizzier, and the bears circled and circled.”

goat14

“And what happened next?” Sparkroot asked.

“Next thing my ada knew, it was morning, and he was leaning against the old oak tree, but the oak tree wasn’t split. The only thing split was the empty jug of mead beside him on the forest floor.”

“Was it just a dream then?”

“That’s what my ada thought,” said Jaclyn. “For he searched the ground all around, and he didn’t see a single footprint from a single bear, and he would have for it was all damp and muddy around. The only footprints he did see were very strange, indeed. The right print was from a man’s riding boot. And the left print?”

Brennan began to clap loudly. “That’s the best folk tale I’ve ever heard!” he said.

goat15

“I didn’t finish yet,” said Jaclyn.

“Yeah, Ada,” said Sparkroot. “We need to hear what the left footprint was!”

goat16

“The left footprint was a goat hoof,” said Jaclyn.

“Folk tales and fairy tales!” chuckled Brennan nervously. “The stuff of foolish nonsense!”

goat17

“And that’s the story’s ending sure as the beginning! I’ll be off then,” said Jaclyn. “Ta!”

After she left, Brennan tried to still the nervousness he felt. He couldn’t explain it. All he knew was that he really had no patience for such make-believe. Superstitions and nonsense!

“You know, Spark,” he said to his son, “these kinds of stories really aren’t to be taken seriously. They’re not like stories about Babe Ruth, for example. They’re make-believe.”

“OK, Ada,” Sparkroot replied. “If you say there’s no such thing as a goat-hoofed man, I’ll believe you. But bears are real, right?”

“Not in New Orleans,” Brennan replied. “And not even here in Windenburg, either. The bears were cleared out long ago.”

goat18

Brennan couldn’t shake his feeling of unease. After the kids settled in for their afternoon nap, he paced the living room, feeling first his right foot on the ground, then his left foot. Such nonsense! Two feet, ten toes. He wiggled his toes. All there! Who could believe the nonsense that such a silly woman could tell in her idleness!

He went in to look at his son as he slept, with his two feet in his two sneakers, like an all-American kid. He glanced down at his own two loafers. Stuff and nonsense! He didn’t even like the violin!

goat19

When Cathy came into the kitchen to dish up snack for them, Brennan lashed out.

“What was that woman even doing here? Why do you have her over? Are you going to let anyone tell any old nonsense to our children? I don’t want my boy growing up believing in fairy tales!”

This was the second time he had yelled at her. The first had happened shortly after their marriage, when they’d met Jaclyn, Davion, and Wade at a nightclub. Cathy began to suspect that Brennan really didn’t like her friends.

goat21

“Oh, phooey,” he said. “I lost my temper.”

He looked at her with a sheepish grin, and she tried to smile back. The smile didn’t reach her eyes.

goat20

He did the dishes out of contrition.

It didn’t take away the sting.

Cathy thought. She knew this about Brennan, that he was capable of this. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted them to live in separate houses, to minimize the occassions when this could happen.

This was likely the root of Sugar’s anger, Cathy realized. Sugar’s Aunt Poplar. What had Sugar told her about her aunt?

“My aunt Poplar, God-rest-her-soul, that was a lonely woman,” Sugar had said. “She meant well enough, and I truly believe that she loved my mother and even me. And she was the best friend of my sweet sister Salix. But I’ve got to tell you, our home was nearly ruined time and again by Poplar’s verbal abuse. Eventually, when I was old enough, I lay down the law. ‘I won’t have you yell at me, or anyone I love,’ I told her. But we’d already been stung.”

Knowing Brennan, and Sugar had made sure to get to know this man before Cathy married him, Sugar likely learned that he was prone to these types of outbursts, too. It’s not the type of thing that anyone would want to expose a child to, especially if they’d experienced it in their own childhood. No wonder Sugar felt upset that Cathy was making a dad out of Brennan.

goat22

Cathy wasn’t sure what to do. She loved this man. She loved their kids more than love itself.

She wasn’t sure if she could protect them from sometimes getting lashed with harsh words. And she didn’t want to keep them away from their father.

Maybe they could learn, what? That love is enough? That sometimes those you love might say things that hurt? That there’s more in this world than harmony and peace? That somebody may have shortcomings and foibles, and might even hurt you, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love you, and it didn’t mean that you had to stop loving him?

She wasn’t sure what they could learn. She wasn’t really sure what she could do. She figured that sometimes, there might be harsh words and tears. And sometimes, they might be like every other happy family.

And no matter what, she’d be there, to hold a safe spot when the oak tree cracked.

goat23

<< Previous | Next >>

New World Symphony: Delivery

delivery18

Cathy played through the night. Brahms’ intermezzos on piano in the parlor gave way to Bach’s partitas on violin in the garden.

She thought over Sugar’s fury while she played. What had made her so angry? She knew Sugar disliked Brennan–he had a habit of lashing out at people and he genuinely seemed to enjoy the misery of others.

But we’re none of us perfect, Cathy thought. We all have our complicated patterns and our foibles and follies, and to love someone even knowing their limitations, that was something, wasn’t it?

But Cathy suspected there was more to it than that. She herself suspected Brennan’s true origins–she was never taken in by his backstory, though he still believed it without hesitation.

“I’m from New Orleans,” he was fond of saying, and every time he said it, Cathy smelled rose-water and sulfur.

When onezero woke, Cathy sought her out.

“Do you think there’s reason to worry?” she asked her friend. “Was Sugar right in her first response, and did I do something wrong and irresponsible in getting pregnant?”

delivery21

onezero wrapped her in a big hug.

“When we combine two to make one,” said onezero, “the result is something entirely extraordinary! It’s not the mother, it’s not the father. You are bringing in something new, and that’s always something to celebrate.”

delivery22

They sat in the garden while the sun rose.

Cathy had to admit that, if she tuned in to how she felt, everything felt so very right. Sometimes, life steps up and asks you to follow, that’s how she felt–and here she was, following as best she could.

“After all,” she said to onezero, “this just happened! It wasn’t something I planned. It’s not something that could be expected.”

“Exactly,” said onezero from the easel at the edge of the porch. “Like when my dad was taken by the thousand. Who would expect that? That’s not anything that could be planned or expected.”

“And look how that turned out!” said Cathy, with a smile. “You’re the best surprise there ever was!”

delivery20

onezero left after she finished her painting, a portrait of a Madonna which they hung upstairs. “Call me when it’s time,” onezero said. “I’ll come in a jiffy!”

Cathy spent the late morning painting a childlike drawing of a tiny being–half fairy, half bird. The innocence of the painting charmed her.

This might be my last time alone for a while, she thought, savoring the solitude and the quiet. We make our peace, she thought, hoping to remember this during the busy days that would be sure to follow the baby’s delivery.

delivery19

In the afternoon, while she was relaxing with a computer game, the contractions came.

I can do this, she thought, remembering to breathe.

delivery17

But the second contraction came with such fierceness, as if she were tearing inside, and she wasn’t sure she could do it. She couldn’t get ahold of Jaclyn. She called onezero.

delivery16

onezero arrived with sadness. Cathy couldn’t ask what was the matter–every ounce of concentration was spent breathing through the pain.

delivery15

“I knew it wouldn’t be an easy birth,” onezero said. “I could feel it. Are you all aright?”

Cathy couldn’t answer.

“I wish Jaclyn were here,” onezero said.

delivery14

They made their way back to the nursery.

“Oh! It’s going to be all right!” onezero said. “I just felt a shift. There’s nothing to worry about! You can push now!”

delivery13

And onezero was right.

In fact, she was doubly right. Two babies were born, a son and a daughter, and both were healthy, each one with ten fingers and ten toes, and two eyes, and one nose.

“They’re lovely. What will you call them?” onezero asked.

“You name them,” said Cathy. “You’re their godmother.”

delivery12

“Me and Jaclyn,” said onezero. She closed her eyes for a moment. “Jaclyn says that the little boy should be called something… something that you had in your sandwich. Fireflies? Something sparkly.”

“Sparkroot?” Cathy asked.

“Exactly!” said onezero. “Sparkroot and Florinda.”

delivery11

onezero took out her cellphone. “We need to remember today,” she said, snapping a photo of the two of them. “I mean, of course we’ll always remember, but this will help us commemorate, too.”

delivery10

When onezero left, Cathy spent time with each baby, feeling that warm weight rest in the crook of her arm, as if her body had been built for this.

Sparkroot had eyes the shape of his daddy’s, but they twinkled with a spark all his own.

delivery09

After she’d nursed the twins and tucked them into bed she called Brennan.

“We had two,” she said. “Do you want to come meet them?”

delivery06

“It’s really something,” he said. “Are they exactly alike?”

“Well, one’s a girl and one’s a boy, and one has lighter skin and one darker, and their eyes and smiles are shaped differently, but they’re exactly alike in that they’re both ours.”

delivery05

Brennan felt proud and surprised. They weren’t much to look at–they both looked the same to him, sort of like little peanuts, and there wasn’t much of them, and they couldn’t really talk yet, could they, but they’d grow into something. They’d grow into actual people, his children, and that was something.

“I’m a dad,” he said.

delivery04

He wrapped his wife in a hug. “We really did it!” he said.

delivery03

“I’m a dad!”

She held him, and to her, with his beating heart and hot skin, he felt in her arms like a little boy who’d come home from school with a first prize in the science fair, bursting with excitement and pride.

delivery02

She went into the kitchen to prepare a late-night snack for them, and when she finished, she found him at the computer, posting onto the Forums, “I am the proud papa of twins. Who says a poor boy from New Orleans can’t hit a home run, twice?”

delivery01

<< Previous | Next >>

New World Symphony: Baggage

On her way home from Jaclyn’s, Cathy met Sempervirens.

“Out for an evening walk?” Cathy asked.

“Looking for fireflies,” Sempervirens said. “Do you know sometimes the lights disappear? Where do the fireflies go?”

room25

“Maybe they’re not fireflies!”

“What else would they be?” Sempervirens asked.

“Dancing lights over the meadows–what do you think they could be?”

“When I was a baby, I thought they were fairies, but Pierce at school says fairies are make-believe. Do you think Pierce is right?”

“Pierce probably is right about a lot of things, but like everybody, he’s also going to be wrong about some things. I’ve got a hunch that you might know best in this area.”

Sempervirens looked out over the meadow, where at that moment five yellow lights were dancing above the buttercups.

“Hey, Squid,” Cathy said. “I’ve got some news to share with you. What would you think about a new friend to play with?”

room26

“I love new friends!” said Sempervirens. “Me and Jennifer are thinking of starting a club.”

“Good,” said Cathy, “because I’m going to have a baby. Think the baby could join the club when it becomes a kid?”

“Yahoo! Jumping tadpole tales!” said Sempervirens. “That’s the best news! A new kid in the neighborhood!”

room27

It was late when Cathy got home. She wanted to tell Sugar next. Sugar was the natural leader of this community, always making the rounds, keeping track of every new development, always there when something was happening. It just made sense that she’d be one of the first to know. Besides, she and Cathy were great friends.

She invited her over in the morning.

Cathy expected her to be overjoyed at the news–her wide-eyed shock surprised her.

room28

But not nearly as much as the anger that followed.

“You simply can’t. How could you? I can’t believe it. This is so irresponsible. So regrettable! What were you thinking?” Sugar could barely get her words out.

room29

“I’ve never seen you so angry,” Cathy said. “I thought you’d be happy.”

“I would be happy if it were with anyone else. But Brennan? Do you even know what he is? Where is he from, anyway? What is he made of? I sense things about him, about where he came from and why he smells like sulfur. I just can’t believe how irresponsible first that you even brought him here, and now, that you’d have a kid with him? It’s dangerous to all of us and everything. Bringing people into this world bears a responsibility.”

room30

“I’m sorry,” Cathy said. “The wish was a whim. I realize that. But I love him. I can’t believe that anything connected with such love can be bad.”

“Love doesn’t excuse foolishness,” Sugar said. “It might cause it, but it’s no excuse.”

room31

Cathy shared with her the conversation she’d had with Jaclyn the day before.

“I can’t help but feel that there’s something greater at work here,” she said. “I don’t feel that any of this has been my choosing. It’s been something that needed to be done, and it’s being done through me, but none of it, not even that rose-water wish that brought Brennan here, is something that I woke up deciding I would do.”

“What was Jaclyn’s reaction when you told her you were expecting?” Sugar asked.

“She was excited. She actually whooped and did a fist-pump!” Cathy leaned in and whispered to Sugar. “She fed me sparkroot and flower petal sandwiches,” she confided. “For transformation, she said.”

room33

Sugar breathed a deep sigh of relief and laughed.

“So you went to the midwife and she put it all right?” Sugar asked.

Cathy nodded.

“All right. My anger was premature,” Sugar said. “Still, you gotta be careful in this. You can’t just go blundering into things you don’t understand.”

room32

Sugar stayed close to Cathy the rest of the day, watching her carefully while she went about her morning activities, gardening, baking, painting, and watching the clouds trace patterns in the sky.

“All right,” said Sugar towards evening, “I’ll be heading off, then. Call that husband of yours and share the news with him. Can’t do to surprise him with something like this after the fact. You just be sure you check in with Jaclyn with any questions or worries, and do everything she tells you, to the letter.”

It was easy to agree with such sound advice.

room34

Brennan came over at nightfall. He had an inexplicable touch of melancholy which the damp scents of the garden only deepened.

room35

“You look a little ripened, my butterfly,” he said when Cathy greeted him at the door.

She giggled. “That’s one way to put it.”

room36

She kissed his cheek. “We’re expecting,” she said. “Turns out I’m not too old after all!”

“Holy Jehosaphat!” Brennan shouted. “Who’s the man? Who’s the boss? You’re looking at him!”

room38

Cathy went in to prepare a supper of pasta with spinach and pumpkin seeds while Brennan stood at the stone threshold, sighing and smiling.

Before Cathy called him in for supper, onezero arrived. She and Brennan stood before the door without exchanging a word.

room39

Brennan waited while Cathy came out to share their news with onezero. He would never tire of hearing her say this.

room40

onezero feigned surprise, and then she shrugged and said, “I know already. Why else would I come tonight? I heard from Sugar, I heard from Jaclyn, but before that, I heard from the one thousand. It’s meant to be, plain and simple.”

room41

After supper, Cathy and onezero sat together on the couch while Brennan played video games.

“Would you like to spend the night?” Cathy asked. Somehow, she didn’t really want to be alone that night.

“Won’t Brennan be staying?” onezero asked.

“No,” said Cathy. “He never stays. Spiders, you know.”

The two friends talked well into the night, after Brennan left and the moon rose and the dancing yellow lights came out over the meadows.

“What was it like to have one parent that was a normal person and the other parents from another realm?” Cathy asked.

“Oh,” said onezero, “Chandler Adam was hardly normal! He had a kind and cheerful heart, my father did, and so, I always knew that I had been born in the right place. Your child will feel the same because of you.”

room42

While onezero slept in the upstairs room, Cathy played the piano. Even with the pregnancy, she could hardly sleep–there was just so much energy swirling around and within! It was something that music could express better than thoughts or words. She turned to Brahms and let the complexities of his intermezzo convey the feelings within her that she had yet to discover.

room43

<< Previous | Next >>