Vampire Code: Ada Complex

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“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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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!”

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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!”

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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.

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Vampire Code: Love in the Age of Monsters

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As toddlers grow, and stirrings within prompt them to share their inner worlds with those they trust and love, they reach for language, sometimes inventing a syntax and vocabulary to circumscribe their wild feelings. The more Cathy Tea listened to her son Rocket’s tales, the more she wondered at him. He was so different from her other children, Sparkroot and Florinda. They talked of flowers and monsters and space and trees and pirates and princes and faraway lands and tigers.

Rocket talked of love and monsters.

While the older kids were at school, she often took a book outside to be near him while he played. Every morning after snack and milky-tea with honey, he found his way to the dollhouse.

“You break my heart,” he said. “I love you–You don’t love me–I do. You break my heart–You mine. You hero. Marry me, Rose. Ring. Take ring.”

“What are you playing?” she asked him

“True love,” he said. “Ama and Ada. Hate you. Love me. Love heart. Kiss-kiss.”

“Is it fun?” she asked him.

“Yes. Much,” he said. “She loves him. He loves her. He leaves. He cries. She happy.”

Later that day, while they sat inside for afternoon story, she asked him, “Do you think all mommies and daddies live separately?”

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“No,” he said. “Only when love break heart.”

“Do you think my heart is broken?” she asked him.

“No,” he said. “Ada.”

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“Mmm,” she replied. “I don’t think your ada’s heart is broken.”

“Is,” he said. “He like it. He break it. Read story.”

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She read about a cat and a bunny.

“He love her,” Rocket said. “Bunny ask cat, ‘Marry me?’ Cat say, ‘Meow, poo-poo.’ That mean no. Bunny break heart. True love.”

“Sometimes, true love means being together,” Cathy said. “Like Semperviren’s parents. Or her uncles. Like me living with you and Sparkie and Flor!”

“Ada break heart,” Rocket said. “That true love.”

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For such a young child, he loved to talk. Sparkroot and Florinda spent hours chatting with him about their interests and his. When they brought friends home from school, Rocket hopped over to chat with them, too.

“Tell me monsters,” Cathy overheard him ask Mario Behr one day while she was watering the plants in the upstairs den where the boys sat together on the sofa.

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“I can’t,” Mario said. “You’re too little.”

“Not,” said Rocket. “I Monster Master.”

“Ok,” said Mario. “In that case, you must remember the time when all the zombies came out of the ground, and it was all foggy, like weird spooky cold, and they were saying all together, ‘Errrr, gahhhh, braiiins….'”

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“And then you jumped out and you said, ‘Back in the ground, zombie-doo-doos!’ And they all went back to the ground!”

“Yay!” shouted Rocket. “Zombie ground, doo-doo!”

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“Did you like that story?” Mario asked.

“Very much,” said Rocket. “I told you I not scared. I Zombie Master. I know kung fu.”

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Cathy guessed that Mario would tell all the kids at school about Sparkroot and Florinda’s baby brother and his mysterious monster-taming martial arts. He was that impressed.

A few days later, when Pierce Carey stopped by after school, Cathy heard him say to Florinda, “I don’t believe it. Not for a second. In the first place, there’s no such thing as monsters or zombies. Mud dragons, maybe. But even with them, kung fu doesn’t work. And even if it did, you’d have to be big. Like at least a fourth-grader. Otherwise. Squish. You’re mud dirt.”

Florinda looked at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Pierce asked. “Your brother is not a monster killer. He’s a baby.

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Cathy thought she might ask her youngest son about monsters, taming them, and martial arts. She hadn’t even realized that he knew what kung fu was. What kind of movies did his ada let him watch?

While she was paying bills at the computer in the foyer outside the parlor, she heard Sparkroot laugh.

“You got them all scared now, Rocky!” he said.

“Who scared?” asked Rocket.

“The kids at school! They believed Mario about your super zombie-fighting powers!”

“That good,” said Rocket. “Zombie first. Then tigey-tooths.”

Sparkroot laughed. ” I guess we’re safe then!”

“That right,” said Rocket.

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Vampire Code: Direct Line

The Third Movement of New World Symphony

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“It’s done!” Brennan said.

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

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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.

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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.

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“He’s a wild one,” said onezero.

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“What will you name him?” asked Jacklyn.

“Rocket,” said Cathy.

“Rocket?”

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

“What about Flor?” Cathy asked.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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New World Symphony: Three Wishes for Tomas, pt. 2

Tomas stood at the last grave in the long row of tombstones that lined Cradle Rock: his grave. He was the last to die here, so close to making it to the new era when time would shift. He regretted nothing: not one aspect of his long life with Redbud. But he mourned the loss of that long life.

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He spent the day wandering Cradle Rock, visiting all his favorite spots, watching Redbud as she went about her day, and then, as night fell, he returned to Cathy Tea’s.

Sparkroot greeted him.

“Where’s your mom, little bud?” Tomas asked.

“Not sure, exactly,” Sparkroot said.

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“We were playing outside after dinner, and we heard this weird whirring sound,” Sparkroot said. “You ever see one of those big lit-up frisbees in the sky? It was one of those!”

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“Ah, I see!” said Tomas. “I don’t suppose your mom headed over to check out the lights.”

“Yeah,” said Sparkroot. “That’s just what she did. She told me to go inside and wait for her, and she went out front to take a look, and then the whir noise got louder, and then by the time the noise was gone, I couldn’t find Ama! You think she’s OK?”

“Yes, I do,” said Tomas. “Not to worry. It’s happened to a lot of us. She’ll be back safe and sound and all the wiser. Where’s your sister?”

“She’s at Little Green’s home in the big meadow.”

Tomas smiled to think of his granddaughter Sempervirens playing with Cathy Tea’s child. Thinking of Little Green made him want to return to life all the more! How incredible it would be to be an actual part, not just a spiritual part, of his granddaughter’s life.

“Think I can use your Wishing Well again?” Tomas asked Sparkroot.

“Sure thing,” said Sparkroot. “Just be careful what you wish for. That’s what Ama always tells us.”

Tomas had a good feeling about his wish this time. He felt so much more sure.

He tossed in the bag of coin for his donation, and as the white light of gratitude shone up, he felt confident. His intentions were set: they were right.

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He knew this wish was for the best. Let it happen!

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Green light shone out: green, the color of life, living, and growing things. His hope grew.

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He felt the white helix surround him. The tingling was less extensive than before.

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And then it faded. No change? After all of that? After the pure setting of intention and the clarity of thought and wishing? And, nothing?

There was something. He felt a round bump in his pocket, like a pebble. When he took it out, he saw a seed in the shape of a skull. It looked like something he’d seen in an old illustrated book: the seed of the death flower.

It wasn’t what he’d wished for, but at least his wish left him something in his pocket.

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He didn’t want to leave the the children while their mother was still gone, so he found a book inside and settled down to wait.

Late at night, Florinda straggled in.

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“You’re home, I see!” he said. “And how was Little Green? How is my granddaughter?”

“You’re Little Green’s arsa’thair?” asked Florinda. “She’s my really good friend!”

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Tomas heard all about the mischief and games that Florinda and Sempervirens got into that day. While Tomas was tucking in Florinda for the night, he heard the whirring sound.

The saucer circled, then hovered over the house, sending down its beam of light.

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And Cathy Tea slid down the beam, landing without even a wobble, as if she’d done this a thousand times before.

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“How was it?” Tomas asked. “Safe trip?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It was fine. I was just catching up with onezero’s thousand. They left a message for me. In fact… oh, forgive me. My mind’s a little groggy. All that travel. I haven’t caught up with myself yet. Let’s see. They said… Oh! They had a message for you!”

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“For me?” Tomas asked.

“Yes! For you! They said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, don’t at first give up!’ And then they said something about the power of two and all of that. It’s a little beyond me at the moment, but there you have it!”

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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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