New World Symphony: The Goat-Hoofed Man

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“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!”

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

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

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

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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!”

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“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!”

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“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!”

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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.”

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“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!”

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“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.”

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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.”

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“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.”

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“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.”

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“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.

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“I didn’t finish yet,” said Jaclyn.

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

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

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

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“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.”

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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!

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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New World Symphony: The Midwife of Childhood

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Jaclyn came over first thing the next morning.

“Twins, huh?” she said.

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“Yeah,” said Cathy. “I thought you were going to be there! Aren’t you the midwife?”

“The midwife of childhood,” said Jaclyn. “I sent onezero to help with the birth.”

“And she did a fine job,” said Cathy. “But holy cow! That was so hard! My back still aches. I can’t wait to get back on the yoga mat.”

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Jaclyn shook as if lightning jolted through her.

Asta pas ta rolley!” she said. “That’s one powerful earth shudder.”

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“You OK?” Cathy asked.

Zowa ka bunga! Did you feel that? The magnet poles just did a somersault, and now the topsy turvy has gone top-right again!”

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“What are you talking about?” Cathy asked.

“Never mind,” replied Jaclyn, excitedly. “No time for explanations, not that there are any and not that you’d understand them even if there were! Let’s get in there and finish up this putting-right-of-everything that’s already been put-to-rights!”

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The nursery lay nestled in the quietness of drowsy babies with breath that smelled like breast milk, and Jaclyn settled into the peacefulness of the still morning. Oh, the rightness was even more right than it had ever been!

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She well understood the responsibilities that came with her position of ushering these babies into childhood. It was a forever type of bond, with lessons and apprenticeships that couldn’t be rushed.

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It was up to her, the fate of each one, and these two, created from the mixing of brightness and shadow, would stretch the very lexicon of rune that she knew.

But she wasn’t worried. What she didn’t know, she would invent. All it took was a quiet mind and an active heart.

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She listened. Way far off, fairies sang, too faint for words to be distinguished, but she could hear the feelings.

A dark oak
stands 
at a bend in a road.

A stone well
waits
in a garden node.

Bring the two,
Mix them well,
Music and moonlight
and a silver bell.

Now the doubling
Twice combined
Ends the troubling
Of those entwined.

Peace and madness,
Trouble and sight,
Stir with gladness
Make all right.

The infants transformed in pas de deux.

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Florinda looked like a child from Jaclyn’s own home, with her shock of copper hair. She would learn fast, this little one.

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Sparkroot smiled with the glee of a wizard’s apprentice.

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At this moment, neither child knew anything but the happiness of this wide world, the golden meadow, the bright morning, the sparrow’s song, and their mother’s love. They were freshly hatched from rune.

Jaclyn knew she couldn’t protect them from broken hearts, the cruelty of others, the boredom of busy work, or the sadness of friends, but she could help them remember this.

She cast a quick spell, spoken softly, so only their hearts would hear:

Morning always
as at night
stars in flowers
moon like a kite

Freeze this moment
Hold it dear
Sorrow, tomorrow
Remember here.

The children smiled wildly, then danced out of the room.

“Look at you,” Cathy said, when Sparkroot skipped up to her in the hall. “Such a little sparkle you are!”

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New World Symphony: Delivery

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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?”

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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“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.

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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!”

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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.”

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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?”

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“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.”

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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.

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

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“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.

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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?”

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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?”

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“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?”

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“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!”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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

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“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.”

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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!”

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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.

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

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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New World Symphony: Room

room01

Cathy Tea wanted more room. Not for Brennan: they were happy living in separate houses. Not for a double-bed: the thickets suited their wild times just fine.

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But she’d run out of room for hanging paintings. She’d always wanted a rooftop garden. And she thought it might be nice to have a launchpad for the rocket ship on the roof, too.

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But mostly, she needed room for this.

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She had thought she was too old to conceive, but with so much magick filtering into this new world, the old laws seemed to give way.

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The first one she wanted to tell was her neighbor Jaclyn. When she thought about it, she realized that Jaclyn had been along on every step of her engagement and marriage to Brennan.

What kind of enchantment was that? She, who’d never wanted to marry, now found herself with a husband, a wishing well man opposite her in nearly every regard.

Jaclyn had been there at each turn.

When she had arrived at Jaclyn’s cottage, a voice had called out, “Come in, Cathy!”

But Cathy entered to find no one at home. The kitchen was empty. There was no one upstairs.

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No one was out by the pool.

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No one was on the patio. Who had called her?

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She was about to leave when she heard Jaclyn’s voice. “I was expecting you,” Jaclyn said as she came in through the front door. “Do you have news?”

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“I do have news!” Cathy said. “But I’m guessing you already know.”

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Jaclyn laughed. “There is the knowing that we know. And then there is the knowing that we learn. I want to learn what I already know, and I want you to tell me! Something happens when the words are spoken.”

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“Besides,” continued Jaclyn, “Won’t it feel good to tell someone?”

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They sat together at the table.

“I’m sure you can tell by looking at me,” Cathy said. “It’s not a flu that turns my stomach.”

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“Go on!” said Jaclyn. “Say the words!”

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“Brennan and I are expecting,” confided Cathy.

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“Carrots, turnips, and rutabagas!” Jaclyn shouted. “Pots in the oven and simmer on the stove!”

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Jaclyn laughed. “This is wonderful news. This is what it’s all about.”

“But I’ve never really wanted to be a mom,” Cathy confided.

“Sure,” said Jaclyn, “but what does what we really want have to do with our destiny? Not much, when it comes right down to it.”

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“That seems a little backwards,” replied Cathy. “Aren’t we the masters of our own destiny?”

“Maybe fools are!” said Jaclyn. “But once you step into rune, something else happens entirely. Did I ever tell you how I came about?”

“Something about a tree and a wedding ceremony?”

“No, no!” laughed Jaclyn. “I was the result of a long debate.”

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“For generations–eons, really–elves and hobbits lived peacefully apart. They hadn’t much to do with each other, and they hadn’t much need to change. As a result, elves became more ethereal, and hobbits became more earthy.”

“I can see how that could happen,” Cathy said, “what with elves dining on pollen and nectar, and hobbits squeezing in elevenses after second breakfast and full suppers after dinner!”

“It was all fine when in woods and meadows we were free to roam, with rune in every mushroom and  every piece of honeycomb, but when the trees were felled and the fields were plowed, and the world began to shrink, we had no place to go! Elves were too light for nomdish eyes. Hobbits could scramble under branch and briar, but through the years, they’d lost their touch. They were little more than squat nomdish theirselves! So my grandparents and my great uncles and aunts and all the old ones began to plan. They realized it was time for something new! A kind of kin who could carry rune in a form strong enough for this world here! So that’s how I came about!”

“You mean, like a breeding project or genetic engineering?” Cathy asked. “But how unromantic is that!”

“Oh, there was plenty of romance!” said Jaclyn. “You should have seen my ada and ama! They were so in love. When there’s a need, and something rises to fill that need, it is often love that steps into the space.”

Cathy thought about the wishing well and her inexplicable, undeniable love for Brennan.

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“Now you stay here for a little while,” Jaclyn said, “while that story sinks in. When you’re tired, sleep in the garden. When you’re hungry, you’ll find food on the table.”

Cathy let Jaclyn’s words settle into her. She grew sleepy and wandered into the garden for a nap among the primroses and holyhocks. When she woke she came into the kitchen, where a warm sandwich waited for her on the table. It smelled like ginger, turmeric, nutmeg, goat’s cheese, and bee pollen.

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“There must be magic in this!” Cathy said. It tasted divine.

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But after she’d eaten half of it, something started twisting inside of her. Was it just morning sickness again? Or maybe the sandwich wasn’t right.

“Jaclyn!” she called. “I don’t feel so great.”

“It’s fine, Cathy,” Jaclyn called down. “I added sparkroot and flower petals to the sandwich. It makes you feel a little funny for a bit, but not to worry! It’s an old recipe. For transformation!”

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Oh, bother and chrysanthemums! It would all turn out all right, wouldn’t it?

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New World Symphony: Two Divided By One

Brennan found the combination of pulsing lights and throbbing bass addictive. The flashing in his eyes, the pounding in his marrow brought an exquisite, thought-stopping, borderline pain.

He and Wade followed the drums. Cathy stood near the bench in the shadows with Sugar and onezero. Jaclyn waited for him in the midst of the flashing lights.

“So?” Jaclyn shouted to him. “What are you waiting for?”

He shook his head. It was hard to hear.

“The marriage?” She shouted. “Just do it!”

“What?” He shouted back.

“Get married!” She yelled.

“When?”

“Now!”

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He looked towards Cathy and smiled. This was as good a time as any. Her closest friends were here. It was fate.

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Jaclyn smiled at them. Wade tried to lock eyes with Cathy before it was too late.

She could feel him looking at her. What freedom does one have in matters like this? Wishes have consequences, and love comes in all sorts of flavors.

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Wade shifted his glance to Brennan.

“What are you waiting for?” said Jaclyn.

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“Are you ready?” asked Brennan, when Jaclyn and Wade turned aside.

“Just a moment,” said Cathy. “Just let me breathe for one moment.”

And all her life before came rushing past, rolling in upon itself, tighter and tighter, until it formed a tiny ball as tight as a thistle seed and then it burst and she was left, among the thistledown.

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“I am ready,” she said, taking his hands that smelled like cinnamon and salt. “I’m yours.”

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“You little light sparkle,” he said. “Tell me now you don’t have fairy ancestry!”

“Enough with the small talk,” said Jaclyn. “Move it along!”

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But Brennan had sweet words to say first, while all around them mist rose up, with the haunting scent of rose water and sulfur.

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Rose Sager had joined them, and she and Jaclyn leaned in to listen to Brennan’s vows of devotion.

“What is light, without dark?
What am I without you?
A half a man, a fool.
But take this fool, and make a man.”

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Cathy took the ring to bind Brennan’s finger.

There were songs being sung in far off tunes, that only Jaclyn could hear. What makes a wedding sad? That it needs to be at all? Why do we strive to bring together that which has been divided? And how is that we remember what it felt like when we were one?

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But it was done, the ring was on, and Jaclyn heard in one ear the beat of the music, and in the other ear Wade’s mocking joke, and beneath it all, Cathy’s vow:

“I wished.
You came.
And now you are here.
Something ended then.
And something began.

To stand with fate
Sometimes brings
Greater freedom
Than to walk alone
Through heaven’s gate.

Brennan Stuckey, you are
My Wishing Well Man.”

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“Oh, to be,” said Wade in his taunting tone, “a Park Boy free! Oh, woe. Oh, me!”

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Cathy and Brennan moved a few paces away to share a kiss.

It was done! Jaclyn gazed past the circle of lights into the great night sky.

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“It’s hopeless,” said Wade. “I’m done in.”

But Jaclyn laughed. “Nothing’s changed, my friend, but that what went wrong has now been set right!”

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“Buck up, Park Boy!” she said, with a tender punch to the gut. “You haven’t lost a thing!”

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“Do I hear wedding bells?” asked Knox over on the park bench. The DJ played the wedding march.

Sugar spied Cathy and Brennan in an embrace. “They’ve done it!” she said. “They tied the knot!”

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“All right!” said Knox. “I love a good wedding!”

“Me, too!” said Sugar.

“Well, technically,” said onezero, “this is an elopement, not a wedding. If it were a wedding I’d have been the maid of honor, seeing I’m Cathy’s best friend, but since I’m clearly not in any capacity of maid-honorship, it must therefore be a simple formality of elopement.”

“Woot!” shouted Knox. “It’s still awesome!”

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While Jaclyn tried to get Wade to bump hips with her, Cathy recited a poem, and then she said, “Bye! See ya later, sweetie!”

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Wade ran to catch up with her as she headed towards the drive.

“Where are you going?”

“Home,” she said.

“Alone?” Wade asked. “What about the bridegroom?”

“Oh,” said Cathy, “I guess he’ll go home when he’s ready.”

“You mean, to your home.”

“No, to his.”

“To his?”

“That’s right,” said Cathy. “I’m going to my home, and he’s going to his.”

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“You mean you’re not living together?” asked Wade.

“Nope,” said Cathy.

“So. Nothing’s changed?” asked Wade.

“Not really,” she said.

“So we can still hang out? I can still come over? We’re still friends?”

“Yup,” she said.

“All right,” said Wade.

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Brennan took his bowl of chips over to the bench where Sugar was telling Paolo the worst pick-up lines she found on a list of ten worst pick-up lines.

The chips were surprisingly crunchy. And they didn’t taste like cardboard at all. In fact, they were delicious.

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“You should try these,” he said to Sugar after Paolo left.

“So how does it feel to be married?” Sugar asked him.

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“Sweet,” he replied. “I feel like a real man now.”

“Well,” said Sugar, “You just be sure that you are a real man. You treat her right, OK? I’m just saying.”

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When Brennan came back to his home, alone, he walked into the study where he’d hung the painting that Cathy had made for him to celebrate their engagement.

It was a masterpiece, even he could see that. It held everything: light and darkness, form and formlessness; the concrete and the abstract; nomdish and rune.

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Sometimes, all-that-is swirls together.

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And out of that chaos, steps a man.

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[End of the First Movement]

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New World Symphony: White Paper and Cardboard

“Do you like the tofu dogs?” Brennan asked when they went back to his place.

“I’m sure they’re nutritious,” Cathy said. They tasted like white paper and mustard wrapped in cardboard.

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Inside and outside, Brennan’s house was mostly white.

“How do you like it here?” He asked. It was her first visit.

“It’s very bright,” she said. “Antiseptic, too.”

He laughed. She thought quickly about the shamrock spider who had spun her web in the corner of her bay window. Surely, no spiders lived in Brennan’s house.

“I like it clean,” he said, laughing. “Do you?”

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“Oh, you have an easel!” Cathy said, when she spied the corner of the study. “And oils, too!”

“I bought them for you,” he said. “Are they any good?”

“Oh, yes!” she replied. “I love Windsor and Newton. Thanks, Bren.”

She spent the evening at the canvas while the music from the cartoons rolled in from the den, where Brennan napped on the couch.

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In the days after their engagement, Cathy and Brennan weren’t all that romantic with each other, but they were a lot of fun.

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One evening during a dance party at a grand estate, as they emerged from a thicket of fun, Wade greeted them.

“Hey,” Wade said. “Jaclyn said I might find you two over here. By the bush.”

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Wade looked sleepy, or bored, or sad. He didn’t look like Wade, Cathy thought.

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“Don’t mind us,” she said. “We were just, you know, over here for a while.”

“Nah, it’s not me,” said Wade. “I don’t care where you guys are or what you’re up to. Seriously. It’s Jaclyn. She sent me out to find you.”

“Oh,” said Cathy, “how about we be sure to swing by the party and say hey to her before we leave, ok?”

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“Because it wouldn’t be a party without us, right, my sparkle of light?” said Brennan.

Wade simply sipped his drink and watched.

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“I heard you two got engaged,” he said to Brennan. “Congratulations, I guess.”

“Tell you what,” said Cathy. “I’m heading over to the party. I’ll find Jaclyn and see what she wants. Meet you guys over there later!”

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As she walked off, she heard Wade ask, “When’s the date?”

“We haven’t set it,” said Brennan. “Why rush happiness?”

“Oh, God,” Wade groaned. “You’re really going through with it, aren’t you?”

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She felt relieved as soon as she left them. Something about Wade’s eyes and Brennan’s grin wasn’t sitting right with her. It was as if the sadder Wade became, the happier Brennan felt. But that couldn’t be, could it?

Who would take joy in another person’s pain?

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New World Symphony: Blind

Cathy had the same dream, over and over. She was in a meadow filled with the songs of thrushes and vireos. Suddenly, the bird songs stopped. A pinhole opened in a rock–and then a flash of light and silence.

When she woke, the back of her eyes ached. Something was not right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

She’d been spending time with new friends and old. Something about Zuri, the new bartender at the local pub, felt so familiar to Cathy. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but they felt like kin.

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It wasn’t just that they shared the same mischievous sense of humor or that they both liked cozy indoor spaces and wide open meadows. It was a feeling–like giggles, right before they surface, and everything feels happy, and just a little bit magic.

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Old friends called nearly every day, and most nights, if she wasn’t doing a final edit of a chapter, she’d meet up with them someplace where they could laugh and dance.

Sometimes, she caught Wade looking at her a certain way. He was always sure to be there, every time she got together with any of the Boughs. Through hanging together with their common friends, she and Wade had become close enough to be best friends. Sometimes, there was a little happy buzz between them. But they’d never acted on it, except maybe to use that happy energy to make the evening even more fun.

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The night after Brennan, her boyfriend, had come over to her place to visit, she called him up to see if he wanted to hang out with them all at the discotheque.

“We both like purple,” he said.

“Matches the interior!’ she replied, surveying the place.

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They found a corner away from the dancers, and he rubbed her shoulders.

“You’re tense!” he said.

“Oh, I worked in the garden all afternoon,” she replied. She didn’t say she’d been shoveling compost, knowing how squeamish Brennan was.

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They chatted about ice cream. Brennan was describing this new topping he’d invented for a chocolate cone, something with marshmallow sauce and cherries, when Jaclyn appeared behind him.

“This is promising!” Jaclyn whispered. “This is more like it, CT!”

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While Brennan began to describe the plot of the cartoon he’d watched that afternoon, which, surprisingly enough, wasn’t boring but actually quite ingenious, Jaclyn looked down and began to whisper, too softly for Brennan to hear. But Cathy could see her lips. She was either saying something about squirrels, or worlds. Kites or light. Tunes or runes.

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Then she held up her phone and flashed a bright light in Cathy’s eyes. It was just as in the dream, and Cathy turned before her eyes began to ache.

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Jaclyn leaned forward and whispered to Cathy:

You can’t undo what you have done.
Now he’s here, you cannot run.
You must make two into one.
It has to be, two to one.

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“Let’s go upstairs,” Brennan said, “where we can be alone.”

“You seem awfully happy,” she said, as she looked down at him grinning at her.

“I am,” he replied. “I’ve got something I’ve been wanting to ask you ever since I saw you in your goofy little animal hat tonight.”

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He stood and suddenly became very serious.

“I know we have nothing in common,” he said. “Except we both like the color purple. I’m younger than you. I’m a lazy, squeamish fool who watches cartoons all day and lives on ice cream. But, I like you. You seem to like me.”

Cathy listened. It was true. She liked him very much. In fact, she loved him. She had from the moment she’d seen rise from the wishing well those billowing clouds of rose-water and sulfur smoke. She loved him before she even saw his face. She’d loved him as soon as she’d known he was coming in answer to her wish.

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“Marry me,” he said.

Her heart stopped for a moment. She wasn’t the marrying type. And how would they live, having nothing in common? She hadn’t even kissed him yet. She didn’t know if she’d like the way his lips tasted.

But she loved him. And he was here because of her. This was what Jaclyn meant, she realized. She had to. She couldn’t run.

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She said yes, and the moment the engagement ring was on her finger, she felt with that circle of responsibility an overwhelming joy. A wish followed-through-with made everything right!

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He swept her off her feet, thinking, perhaps, that her t-shirt was the color of passion-fruit topping.

She looked up at the flourecsent light–blinding in its whiteness. The light flickered, crackled, and then in a burst of white, it burnt out, and he held her in the dark.

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As her vision sparkled with phosphenes, she thought she saw through the roof, up into the spinning galaxy to the chaotic seat of creation itself. What was life made of, after all, but the union of opposing forces?

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New World Symphony: The Wishing Well Man

Once the crack between worlds has been opened, all kinds can come in. This Jaclyn knew well.

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And when the fabric separating nomdish from rune begins to fray, light spills through from every world: all it takes then is one stray wish to call forth magic from the other side.

The ones from the old world were expected. After Davion came Zuri, a dwarf-wood nymph, who brought news of others to follow. Kindred from home had always been part of the plan.

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But there was now another–an unexpected one–pulled by wishing rune.

“Where’s your new boyfriend?” Jaclyn asked Cathy at J.P. and Floyd’s wedding.

“Oh! I forgot to invite him,” Cathy confessed.

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It’s one thing to wish someone into being, but it’s quite another to proceed to ignore the responsibility that the presence of this wished-for being entails.

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Something has to be done:
we can’t have netherworld rune
move untethered through this green world
passing themselves as nomdish
to every unsuspecting one.

That was a sure way to mischief
that could never be undone!

Jaclyn’s dreams were interrupted by flashes of light. Vast green landscapes blazed white, and when she woke, the back of her eyes hurt.

She blinked into green, blue, brown–and the white desert faded. It wasn’t too late, but she would need vigilance and action.

preludefive19


 

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Brennan Stuckey had no recollection of the bright world from where he came. But anyone who has ever been where there are no shadows can tell you that there lies a realm of Lucifer: not King of Darkness, but Despot of Light.

It takes shadow to bring relief, to provide a spot to rest, a moment to reflect.

With only light, the eyes crack and the sudden blindness spreads inside. That was the trick.

Brennan didn’t realize any of this, of course. As far as he knew, there was nothing in existence more insidious than the tediousness of Saturday morning cartoons.

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They lured you in with bright colors and catchy tunes. They made you laugh. And then, they left you craving sugar-coated cereal.

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The cereal, as brightly colored as the cartoon show, smelled sweet as strawberries, cherries, and marshmallows…

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only to taste like soggy cardboard.

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Brennan, in his backstory memory, knew everything about this world in which he found himself, and he believed in the veracity of all he knew.

But when it came to the knowledge one gains from experience, he was as naive as if he’d manifested in smoke two weeks ago from a wishing well. Which, of course, he had.

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Imagine the joy of eating an ice cream cone for the very first time. Chocolate–that flavor tickles the insides of the mouth and makes the tongue soft with rich sweetness. Add something purple on top–like berry topping to pizzazz the tongue–and the experience, especially for an ice cream virgin, was enough to rain down bliss.

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This newness filled Brennan’s days with excitement. There was so much to do!

One afternoon, he spied a bored young woman walking down the street.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “It’s sunny! The birds are singing! Why so glum?”

“Eh,” said the woman, “I’ve seen it all before.”

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He invited her in for an ice cream cone.

“I bet you haven’t had chocolate with passion fruit topping before,” he said.

“Prob’ly tastes like mango, only sweeter, right?” she asked.

They chatted, and when she learned his name, she said, “Oh! You’re Brennan! I’m Cathy’s friend Paisley. I heard you two were dating. How is she?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Brennan. “Last time I saw her, she was doing pretty good.”

“And when was that?”

Brennan did a quick calculation. “Oh, about two weeks ago.”

“Two weeks? And you’re her boyfriend? Why, I just saw her yesterday. You should really call if you two are dating.”

“Yeah,” Brennan agreed. “That’s probably a good idea.”

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Cathy Tea invited him over as soon as he called.

“Did ya miss me?” he asked.

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“Not really,” she admitted. “But you know what? Now that you’re here, I’m really glad to see you!”

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New World Symphony: Nomdish and Runes

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The pink cloud carried the intoxication of love. Who’s to know what’s true and what’s illusion when the fog of romance obscures the view?

Slowly, the fog settled, and Cathy found that she was very much in love.

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But with whom? The object of her affections was obscured by the vapors of love.

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Love hardly needs a shape or form when it’s this strong–that it exists, that one can feel that heady spin, that rush of pulse, that skip of heart! That’s enough.

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In the midst of sulfur and rose-water fumes, Brennan Stuckey found himself. Where was he? Who was he?

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Ah, that’s right! He was Brennan Stuckey, 38 years old, computer programmer, single. With a girlfriend. A girlfriend? As the fog evaporated, he recounted the facts that he knew about himself: He had a master’s degree in art history, though he worked as a software engineer; he’d been raised by an aunt with a harsh view of discipline in a Southern town; he had no family, to speak of, few friends, and he was the boyfriend of Cathy Tea.

Of course, none of this, except the last, was true.

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The garden he found himself standing in smelled like mud and mulch, a place where he’d find creeping things. “What’s that over there?” he asked.

“The robin?”

“No, on the ground. That wiggling thing.”

“Oh! It looks like a salamander!”

“Ugh. It’s wet. Slimy.” He shivered. “Do you think we could go inside, sweetness, where there are fewer germy things?”

rune07

They sat indoors.

“Is that a spider web?” he asked, looking in the corner of the bay window.

“Oh, yes,” replied Cathy. “A shamrock spider! I watched her spin her web yesterday! She helps to keep the fruit flies out of the kitchen!”

“Flies? So unsanitary!” Brennan said.

As they chatted and shared endearments, two things became clear to Cathy: first, Brennan seemed to believe every detail of his backstory. Cathy understood that it was all a fabrication that came part and parcel with his sudden manifestation into form, but he clearly believed in the aunt, the Southern town, the harsh discipline, the master’s degree, the programming job.

Next, it became overwhelmingly clear how poorly suited they were to each other. When Cathy mentioned the pollywogs in the pond, he flinched. “They’re disgusting!”

When she suggested they take a walk, he said it was more comfortable sitting inside. “My feet are tired, and this chair is comfy.”

When she began to describe how happy Sharon’s daughter had been to qualify for the spelling bee, he said, “Kids here are lucky. I was reading the other day about kids in this little village in Africa. There’s been a drought, so nobody can buy food. They’re starving. Everyone.” And he smiled, a genuine smile. He might have even wrung his hands.

She also realized, with a start, that though he was created out of rune, he was, in his views, nomdish through and through.

“You’re always talking about magic,” he said. “It’s so cute! Even when you talk about apples ripening. ‘It’s magic!’ It’s not. It’s chemistry. But how sweet that my girlfriend thinks it is magic.”

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And yet, she loved him. She felt connected to him at a soul level. He answered her wish, somehow. Clearly, they were totally, completely unsuited for each other, and still, she loved him.

He was ready to go soon. “I need a nap!” he said, yawning.

“You can nap here!” she said.

“No. No offense, but your couch isn’t very comfortable. I’ll call you.” And off he sauntered.

Time passed, and Brennan Stuckey never called. Cathy, to her surprise, hardly noticed.

She had so much. She had her violin and her garden. She had Bach and Mozart.

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She had plenty of friends who did call and whom she enjoyed spending time with.

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She had afternoons at the bluff with Wade and members of ZenPines. She had suppers at Cradle Rock, sampling new recipes for veggie burgers.

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She had long talks with Tomas about existence in the great beyond.

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She had friends that were magic, each and every one.

Sugar Maple, whose mastery of instruments didn’t yet extend to the keyboard, asked her to mentor her on the piano, and though at first Sugar played with two fingers, she was very soon using all ten and playing actual music, with expression, of course.

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When she looked up from the keyboard, Sugar motioned to the bar.

“Check out the new bartender,” she said. “More rune.”

“Are you sure?” Cathy asked.

Sugar nodded.

“Do you think Jaclyn knows about her?” Cathy asked.

“Oh, I’m sure!” said Sugar. “She’s likely the reason she’s here. This one’s got dwarf and wood nymph ancestry, if you ask me.”

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When days passed, and Brennan didn’t call and Cathy continued to forgot to think of him, she spent more and more time with Wade and her other friends.

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Somehow, it just felt right to spend time with the old family, the Boughs, and all their family friends.

She found it hard to miss a neglectful, incompatible boyfriend when onezero sought her out for her new best friend.

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In the garden, she realized that she had it all: music, a library, the sunshine, flowers, a puddle-pond full of pollywogs, rune for friends, and rune in the everyday matters of life.

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She even had romance, in the form of a boyfriend who was made out of magic, though he didn’t believe in it; who was incompatible with her, though she felt a connection to him; who never called or dropped by and whom she never really wanted to see–though she loved him through and through. He was her soulmate. Even if he was nomdish, their love was rune.

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