TJ flexed his hand
slowly. He glanced at the clock on the arcade wall. No wonder
his hand hurt, he thought. He'd been playing for almost three hours.
Where had the time gone? He stepped back from the game, the newest
in the Action Bill series. TJ liked video games, especially the stuff
from OmniVID. He turned back to the game, fingering the quarters
left in his pocket. He'd had a good run today, killing his way through
the werewolf indian village to save the children of the lost wagon train.
Hey, he thought, a couple more games, and I can get my name on the machine....
The bane within the machine sent out waves of endorphins while the game was being played. OmniVID, subsidiary of Pentex Corp, infested each of their machines with one. No wonder the games were so addictive.
But TJ didn't know that, he just knew he wanted to play, that he was good at games in a way that he was good at very little else. School baffled him, mom confused him, and his brothers sometimes might as well have been born on the moon for all they had in common with him.
Sometimes, late at night, lying in bed staring out the tiny window, he wondered about his father, about the life their mother had given up and run away from.
And some nights, when he thought really hard about it, it seemed like he could look beyond the walls of the trailer, beyond the valley they lived in, and fly over the land like some big nightbird, to where his father and grandfather lived.
He knew this was silly, imaginative kid stuff, but he would try as best he could to make out his father's face, sitting in the kitchen with his grandfather, talking quietly over steaming cups of coffee, or sometimes sprawled on a sofa with the blue light from the television lighting his face with a ghastly glow. He somehow knew it was important to keep the memory of his father's face alive.
Even though his mother would never answer questions, and always ended each discussion of their father with the cryptic statement of "I was wrong. You just can't combine two worlds so different. Sometimes love just isn't enough." And then, of course, would drink even harder than ever.
But try as he might, while he lay in the narrow bed imagining his father, he could never remember his father's address. Just the name a town that he wasn't even sure was the right one.
He'd checked the library. If there was such a town, it was so small it wasn't on the map.
TJ shook his head, bringing himself out of a daydream. He'd been thinking about his father again. The tips of his ears turned red as he glanced quickly around, to see if anyone had noticed his lapse of attention. Jeremy sometimes 'zoned out', and TJ was pretty determined people weren't going to say the things about him they did about Jeremy.
Fortunately, the arcade was fairly empty at this time of the afternoon, so no one had taken any notice of the teenager staring off into space.
TJ stepped back to the controls, when two giggling girls came up to him. One, the brunette, he'd spoken to a few times in school last year. The other looked enough alike her that he knew they were sisters.
They made small talk, about people they both knew from school, movies they'd seen, tv shows. TJ found himself thinking how very young the girl seemed to be, then reminded himself it was just him, not being used to people his own age.
After a few minutes, their mother appeared in the mall, waving them to her, and the girl - Allison was her name, he remembered now - waved to him and took off, trailing her sister behind her.
TJ watched as the three of them talked for a minute. He took in the nice clothes her mom was wearing, the permed hair, the van keys in her hand.
Normal family... he thought, and the words were like a knife blade between his ribs.
The machine called him, and he turned back to it.
The screen showed a werewolf in indian war-paint, summoning some beastly demon on a windswept hill.
The caption said "Can you save the children in time....?"
His hand was finding the coin slot when Brian tapped him on the shoulder.
The bane within the machine howled at him to play play play, but TJ turned to Brian instead.
"Hey, I'm goin' down to the food court to get somethin' to eat. You want I should meet you back here, or ...?" Brian towered over him by at least a foot.
"Naw, I'll come with you. I could use some food myself," TJ said, whistling for Jeremy, who was talking with the blonde at the counter now. As he came over to them, they noticed he'd given away the last of the stuffed animals.
"You dog," said TJ, in a joking voice. Jeremy smiled.
"Hey, it's not like I need the things," he said.
"You shouldn't call your brother a dog," said Brian slowly. TJ looked at him. He shrugged, and muttered something under his breath. The loud music blasting from Camelot drowned it out. TJ turned, to ask him to repeat himself, when his attention was distracted by the music. It was the new one from Primal Urge, one of Kenneth's favorite bands, so TJ had heard it a lot.
Burn the bridge behind you, leave no retreat,
There's only one way home,
Those that laugh, and crowd the path,
And cut each other's throats,
Will fall like melting snow.
They'll watch us rise, fire in our eyes,
They'll bow their head, their hearts will hang low
And we'll laugh, and they will kneel, and know this heart of steel
Was too hard to break, to hard to hold.
"Yeah, but they're a one hit wonder. Betcha they don't put out another CD," said TJ.
"Naw.." Brian argued back, and they headed for the food court, everything else forgotten.
howled Boudiccea, as Sylvanos bounced the Jeep down through the cut road.
He was trying desperately to keep the tires in the wheel tracks, but the
road was curvy and littered with rocks. Every time one of the tires
bounced over a dip, the woman wailed in pain.
He turned to her, heart pounding, and pushed the towel into the gaping wound on her leg. She let loose a stream of curses and tore a hole in the metal dashboard.
Oh, shit, that's my death, thought Sylvanos.
"We've gotta get this bleeding stopped!" he shouted at her. Her eyes rolled wildly in his direction.
"I know I know I know.." she babbled. Her skin was chalky white. Sylvanos knew werewolves could heal just about any damage, but this seemed to be system overload for her.
The bane had cut deeply into her. A loop of intestine jutted from her stomach, and he could see bone poking from her jeans. If they didn't get her help - and soon - she would die.
He hit another rock in the road. The bouncing of the jeep made her lean forward and vomit.
It looked like blood.
Sylvanos' head spun, images coming up and dropping down again with dizzying speed. The bane, the fight, it's death.. all these thing fought for his attention. But he focused on the road, his driving, and his little knowledge of first aid.
Boudiccea slumped in the seat, her eyes rolling up into the sockets.
"Oh, God, don't die.." Sylvanos wailed.
They pulled up to the trailer. He half-dragged her from the jeep, pulling her up the steps. He noticed none of the other vehicles in the compound. So those who had fled had not returned.
He didn't know if this was good or bad.
And right now, he didn't care.
He laid her on the couch, then covered her with a blanket. Most of her wounds were hidden now, just her pale face showed.
First he called his grandmother. She would know what to do.
Maw-maw had been
matriarch of The Travelers for almost forty years. She was an old
woman, but her Rom blood gave her a beauty not seen much in women less
than half her age. She was short, but she was tough as nails.
Sylvanos loved Maw-maw, more like a mother to him than his real mother
had been. Now he held the phone with trembling hands and dialed her
After an eternity, the phone picked up.
"Hallo?" said his grandmother.
"Maw-maw, this is Sylvanos. I need help," he blurted.
Without missing a beat, she asked "What do you need?"
"The Garou, she's hurt. Bad. A bane tore her ass up! An' she's not healin' it.. I dunno what to do. I have to help her. She's gonna die."
He turned to Boudiccea, and she was lying looking at him. Her eyes were clear and calm. For a second, his heart jumped up, lighter in his chest.
She's healing! She's gonna be ok!
Then he realized she was seeing something beyond him, and all the energy he had washed out of him, into the ground.
She held out a hand for the phone. He handed it to her numbly.
"Your grandson has been a hero to this family.... if it were in my power, his name would be sung in the list of ... heroes of Gaia..." she said slowly. She coughed, and blood sprayed over the phone.
"He risks .. his life ... in remaining here. I ask only ... that my children have the ... hospitality ... of the Rom ... in exchange for my services ... to you... Time is short ... I am... poisoned, I think ... Thank you ..."
And then she said in Rom, "I thank you in the name of your forebear. Blessed may you and your family be."
Sylvanos took the phone. His eyes brimmed with tears.
"She is good woman, Syl," said his grandmother, emotion choking her voice. "I wish I were there to be the crone for her. Help her over. Do all she asks. Be careful. Her enemies will come, and soon. You must help her children."
And Sylvanos, who had never known that Boudiccea could speak Rom, or that she had done something for them, nodded his head in agreement.
"I will. Don't worry about me."
When she hung up, Maw-maw went to her refrigerator. She removed a joint of meat saved from last night's supper. She took this, a bottle of milk and some bread, and set them down outside her back door. She whispered a prayer to the ancestor spirits that the one called Boudiccea would be welcomed into the afterworld.
Then she sat down and resumed her crocheting.
Life went on for the living.
Brian returned to
the table with a tray piled high with food. TJ and Jeremy had watched
in amusement as he went from one counter to the next in the food court,
getting a burger here and a calzone there, stacking it all on his tray.
When he finally came to sit with them, TJ had nearly finished and Jeremy
was absent-mindedly playing with his french fries.
"What?" he asked as he saw them snickering.
"I have never seen anybody who can eat the way you do, Brian," TJ said. There was some admiration in his voice, though, so Brian let it go. He shrugged good naturedly.
Look, it's no bed of roses being a troll, Brian wanted to say.
But he knew they'd never believe him, just like they didn't believe their mother when she talked about Gaia, or Garou.
But in reality, Brian Silver, star blocker of every high school football team he ever played on, was really Brian Silvermane, troll and attaché to House Scathache. Of course, that didn't really fly on admissions records, so he just put Brian Silver and let it go at that.
But he was still big, in either world.
It's just that he was bigger in the Dreaming.
Oh, and he was blue. In the Dreaming, that is.
TJ and Jeremy sat and watched as Brian ate. Then they stared in more amazement as he made the rounds again and ordered his desserts.
But, hey, he needed the food. After all, he was a growing troll.
Bruce's boss at
the video store, Mr. Al-Hazard, stalked up to him as he was setting out
the new releases. Bruce had been reading the copy on the box of "The
Scorpion". American Anime fascinated Bruce with the idea that maybe,
if he worked hard enough, he might someday see his own works in print.
And The Scorpion was one of Bruce's favorites. Other comic books
came and went, other artists faded in and out of the public eye, but Ian
Black was a special artist, combining the pen of a Frazetta with the jaded
sensibilities of the blackest gothica of Gaiman. Bruce could not
read the issues fast enough.
And so he never heard his boss the first time he spoke.
Bruce jumped when Mr. Al-Hazard touched his shoulder. He whirled around, surprised.
Mr. Al-Hazard was a small man, swarthy skinned and constantly looking as if he were wet. He jumped back a foot when Bruce spun to face him.
"There is a telephone call for you, Mr. Bruce," he said in his irritating voice. Bruce always pictured him replacing Abu in 'The Simpsons' when his job at the video store was over.
Bruce picked up the receiver.
"Bruce, you need to come home. As quick as you can. It's an ... emergency," said Sylvanos. Bruce could hear his mother in the background, arguing with him, telling him not to tell the boys to come here, it could mean their deaths.
Bruce rolled his eyes and sighed. Just another day with mom.
"Do I really need to?" he asked, looking over his shoulder to Mr. Al-Hazard, who stood hovering close enough to eavesdrop.
"Bruce, I wouldn't call unless it was very very important," Sylvanos said, and Bruce caught something in his voice. It sounded like ... fear.
But Bruce had never known Sylvanos to be afraid of anything.
"Yeah, ok..." he muttered, hanging up the phone and turning around to face Mr. Al-Hazard. His boss folded his arms and almost glowered at him.
Sighing, Bruce decided today was just not going to be his day.
Brian still had
a sundae and a package of cinnamon crispas left on his tray. TJ and
Jeremy had grown bored with watching him eat and had shifted their attention
to watching the pretty girls as they strutted back and forth in little
Brian's phone began to ring. With a sigh, he answered. Brian had yet to actually finish a meal without some sort of interruption. Of course, that was probably because Brian's meals could last two or three hours, easily.
"Un-huh?" he mumbled into the phone, spraying crispy fries all over it. He listened for a moment, then Jeremy saw him pale.
"What's up?" the boy asked, but by then, Brian was already half-way up from his chair and heading for the door, dragging TJ with him, as Jeremy followed behind. TJ protested the treatment, but his flailing hands made no impact on Brian's tight grip.
Ashen faced, all Brian would say was, "There's trouble at home."
The boys could get no more out of him for the rest of the long drive.