Episode #30: “City of Chimeras” by Richard Bowes

November 22, 2016

City of Chimeras

by Richard Bowes

1.

Salome's hand is the hinge and John the Baptist's head is the hammer on the doorknocker at the Studio Caravaggio. I slam the brass head held by its brass hair on the door a few times before the spy slot on the iron door opens and closes.

To mortal eyes here in the Middle World even a half-breed Fey like me can appear a bit translucent with his hands and hair trailing away like phosphorous.  In my case most of that is the effect of Prince Calithurn's Glamour having rubbed off on me. But at this address I'm recognized and expected. Though since I've come on time, I am by local standards early to the point of madness.

Just then, I feel the probe of another mind. By instinct I block it.  The rivalries and feuds of the tall elves are twisted and beyond logic.  Recently certain ones have appeared in Gotham who can scan and probe as well as my lover Calithurn or any other Fey. And these newcomers mean us no good. This time however, it's Prince Cal himself and I let him into my mind.

"Enemies from this world and Faery are at my throat," he announces. "Though my father has abandoned me, his enemies have not. My cousins from the South and their friends from the West are closing in. I need you by my side, Jackie Boy."

 

Full transcript after the cut.

 

[Intro music plays]

Welcome to GlitterShip episode 30 for November 22, 2016. I am your host, Keffy, and I have a story to share with you today, but a message first.

We are two weeks into the longest nightmare many of us have ever faced, and a resurgence of horror for those of us who have been through the darkness before.

I have no gentle platitudes to offer today. I am sure that I am not alone in fluctuating between broken-hearted grief, staring terror and burning rage.

I tweeted most of this yesterday, but I feel that it bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating.

There are already people telling you the Right or Best or Most Effective way to resist fascism. Some of these Best ways are not accessible to everyone, for a number of reasons. Some have higher costs for some groups than they do for others.

There is no One Single Best Way to fight fascism. The Best Way is anything you can do. Maybe you can make unlimited phone calls. Maybe you can take to the street. Maybe you can't. Maybe you can do something else. Maybe you can survive.

What if the only thing you can do is remind your friends and the rest of us fighting that we are loved, and we need to drink some water? Do that. What if the only thing you can do is wake up and tell your friends that you are still here? THAT IS WORTH DOING.

There are people who say the best way is to wait. Or that unless you do X, your effort is worthless. Don't listen to them. It is true that some single actions will have more immediate effect than others. But, the answer is not "Do THIS THING or DON'T BOTHER."

The truth is that we need EVERYBODY to fight the rising tide of fascism at EVERY STEP using ANYTHING THEY CAN.

What are YOUR skills? What can YOU do? Do that. Keep doing it. In the darkest hours of humanity, we have still needed people to cook meals, to fold a blanket, to hand a cup of water, to give a hug, to babysit, to say "you are meaningful."

RESISTANCE IS NOT A SINGLE HERO. RESISTANCE IS MILLIONS OF ACTS BY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WHO WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE MEAT GRINDER.

Many of the contributors, creators and listeners to GlitterShip are marginalized along one or many axes that make them feel threatened after this horrible expression of white supremacist power in the United States. We must all stand together to protect all of our people, all the way to the most vulnerable of us. If you are queer or trans, make sure that you are protecting those among us who are also people of color, or poor, or disabled. Those of us with more privilege to higher standards. Those of us who are white, who are not members of targetted faiths, we must be willing to stand between our friends and those who would destroy them.

It isn't easy. Oh, it isn't.

I admit that I spent some time wondering how I was going to make things happen, if GlitterShip is worth it, considering what we face. The first two years of episodes have been difficult, partly for personal reasons, and partly for the rising despair as all of this around us keeps slipping into horror.

But. GlitterShip remains. I am a queer, trans writer and editor. I am selecting stories that speak to me, many from among the voices of other queer and trans people, many of whom have very different backgrounds from myself. Authors of stories I have run are trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, immigrants, latinx, disabled, asian, and on and on.

There is a lot of work to be done, but GlitterShip will remain. We will continue to be a voice in the dark. We're still here.

 


Our story for today is "City of Chimeras" by Richard Bowes.

Richard Bowes is an award winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His fiction has won two World Fantasy awards, a Lambda award, Million Writers, and International Horror Guild awards. He has published six novels, four short story collections and seventy-five stories. Many of his works are listed on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database if you would like to read more of his work.

 

 

City of Chimeras

by Richard Bowes

 

1.

 

 

Salome's hand is the hinge and John the Baptist's head is the hammer on the doorknocker at the Studio Caravaggio. I slam the brass head held by its brass hair on the door a few times before the spy slot on the iron door opens and closes.

To mortal eyes here in the Middle World even a half-breed Fey like me can appear a bit translucent with his hands and hair trailing away like phosphorous.  In my case most of that is the effect of Prince Calithurn's Glamour having rubbed off on me. But at this address I'm recognized and expected. Though since I've come on time, I am by local standards early to the point of madness.

Just then, I feel the probe of another mind. By instinct I block it.  The rivalries and feuds of the tall elves are twisted and beyond logic.  Recently certain ones have appeared in Gotham who can scan and probe as well as my lover Calithurn or any other Fey. And these newcomers mean us no good. This time however, it's Prince Cal himself and I let him into my mind.

"Enemies from this world and Faery are at my throat," he announces. "Though my father has abandoned me, his enemies have not. My cousins from the South and their friends from the West are closing in. I need you by my side, Jackie Boy."

This is just my lord in full dramatic flight. A half-breed with half a talent, I can block probes but I have no ability to reply. In any case there's not much I've been able to say to him lately.  

And I still have time before I need to be back beside him. Part of my half Fey birthright is the gift of Foretelling. And even in the worst future I have seen, he won't leave the mortal earth until this afternoon.

 The studio door swings open. Power is out in the city and seen from here in the silver morning sunlight the interior of the studio looks like a dark cavern.

The gate keeper is a mortal, young naturally in this house, a girl I am certain. What I had thought last time was short, feathery gold hair I see now is short gold feathers that cover her head, legs and arms. A small russet robe is draped over the rest of her body.  

She steps aside saying, "He's still in bed," and indicates the way.

The skylights above are dirty; most of the tall windows are curtained.  In a jumble of costumes and props, I make out a green and silver farthingale and an amber and blue doublet and hose tossed over a pool table, a Wehrmacht helmet hung on the high back of a wooden throne.

A sudden shaft of sun points up a blue and white pattern of pagodas and willow trees on a stretch of tiled wall.  

As I approach the Japanese privacy screens at the far end of the studio, a spaniel with the eyes of a child barks and backs up. A naked boy with a V of reddish hair on his chest is flushed from behind the screens and scuttles out of my path, one hand half concealing his crotch, the other clutching a donut. Green eyes and white teeth flash in what might be a fox's smile or snarl. I think I can hear the click of his nails on the floor.

     Since I first saw him here, I have been curious about the fox boy. I calculate that by the reckoning of the middle earth, I'm in my early twenties and that he's a year or so younger. But time has already put a mark or two on him. As a half-Fey, I am untouched and forever young.

I part two screens and look inside. On his huge, disorderly bed half covered with a sheet lies a large man with a big belly, dark hair on his face and body, thin hair on his head. Scars new and old: the jagged ones on his left shoulder and chest are more recent rough repairs of knife or broken bottle wounds. Neat laser traces on the knee outside the sheet indicate sleek, old fashioned replacement surgery.

The artist who calls himself Caravaggio is half awake. "Jackie Boy all ephemeral and flickering," he says focusing his eyes on me. I don't much like that nickname and he knows it. In the land of the Fey, Jackie Boy is a way of indicating my half human status. In this place, the word boy refers not to age so much as lack of money and position.

"Getting awakened by an angel is not necessarily a good sign." He sits up with a groan with the sheet still around him. "Nope, still alive. Everything hurts."

"You said you had something to show me."

"Well to show you and your lord. I was hoping against hope that he would stop by," he says and stumbles out of bed with a rueful smile. Some passions aren't even forlorn wishes. And the one he has for Calithurn qualifies.

     The sheet falls away and the fox boy, now in the loose boxer shorts that are often all the clothing a street urchin wears, reappears from the dusk. He holds out a dark green hooded robe into which Caravaggio inserts his arms without looking. The fox and I may be about the same age but I am a young man with connections and a bit of money. I've started wearing silk drawers in the same style as his under my riding britches. But a boy like the fox probably owns not much more than the, knee-length shorts he has on.

The kitchen, I know, lies through a nearby door. From there comes the smell of coffee and toasting bread and the sound of an alto singing a chant. That singer is joined by a husky not quite human voice way off key. Laughter follows and silence.

Half walking, half stomping, flicking switches and cursing when they don't respond Caravaggio makes his way across the floor until we reach the screening area. There he touches a wall panel and a small generator hums up on the roof. The alto from the kitchen, with fur as black as a panther's, chants as he brings out large mugs of coffee.  

The artist hits a couple of buttons and on a screen before us is an old map of Gotham. The magic island between two rivers lies at the center with New Jersey and the outer boroughs around the edges. Then the map tears open and a winged horse with a rider in gold armor leaps through: Prince Calithurn.

No such event has actually taken place of course. My lord is not in the habit of intentionally performing circus stunts.

The screen fades to a tumbled down street where an impossibly tall man, semi-translucent, seems to disappear into the broad daylight only to flicker back into sight as he speaks to a crowd. "We will take what is best from here and what is best from the Kingdom Under The Hill. We will make of these a new realm on Earth…."

This actually did happen. It was during Cal and my first days here. That was when I first spotted Caravaggio and his camera. The crowd, when the camera pans it, is colorful; one or two sporting wings where there should be arms, a couple with faces that slip between human and animal. But everyone, human and chimera alike, are enraptured, a rabble willing to be roused.

Then on screen I see that the almost ephemeral Calithurn, without missing a beat, has his sword in his hand. The blade twirls in the air, cuts in two a man with a drawn pistol. This also happened but not on the same day, nor in the same place.

The artist says, "I need so little from you and your prince to tell my story. Just a few samples. Computers will do the rest."

     On the screen is a large room and the only light is coming through the windows, a place of dark split by areas of sunlight full of girls and boys with bare feet, knees and arms but who wear raffish feathered hats, elbow length gauntlets, belts with daggers. These are ruffians who watch, half mocking and half in awe as an angel in gold and jewels, brushed leather jacket and, polished knee boots, suede knickers and a flowing silk shirt, his hair a halo, his ringed fingers trailing away like phosphorus, stands before a tough man in a battered motorcycle jacket and says, "I summon you in the name of my Lord Calithurn."

The man is Caravaggio himself, sporting a beard that he doesn't have. The angel is me, standing where I never stood and saying what I have never said: all of this through the worldly magic of cameras and computers.

"This is the look I'm driving for, the film I'm striving to create," he says. "One where men at their worktables are summoned to greatness by angels while their pretty little friends look on amazed."

All of this startles me. The Foretelling is a skill of the Fey in which some of us have visions of our possible futures. This disheveled mortal seems to have magic at least as great.

He says, "I'd like to see you as one of the crowd at the table too when we have you here all bare and informal."

     He finds his joke amusing. I ignore him.

Suddenly the power comes back on in Gotham and all around us in the studio the mysterious shapes and muted colors are revealed to be broken furniture, piles of tattered costumes and random accumulations of junk.

My host turns and shouts, "Dowse them!" The black figure moves gracefully, humming, smiling, flicking switches until we are back in a circle of artificial light.

"Turn this way, you creature of another world," the artist says viewing me through a lens. "Yes, that expression is perfect for an angel. Polite impatience." 

To mortals here in their earth the Fey, even half-breeds, are creatures of wonder and, they hope, salvation. Caravaggio calls himself a director, an auteur. What he is, at least in part, is a scavenger of images. Scavenging is the local industry.

"What you saw is what I finished yesterday," Caravaggio says. "I'm going to play it by ear and eye. Since I don't know what Calithurn and you have planned.

"Please tell him," he says, "That I'll go wherever he wishes for as much or as little a time as he has to spare me. I'll immortalize him. People will flock to him. He will be a hero, a mayor, a President, a king."

He pauses. "You're impressed by my impudence."

I'd come here this morning to see if what he had done was good enough for him to be entrusted with showing Lord Calithurn to the mortal world. "I'm impressed," I tell him.  "I want you with me and with Calithurn today. If you agree we'll go to him right now."

He jumps up immediately. "I can have my rig packed and ready in a few minutes. Bring my crew…"

 "No. This could be dangerous and it will be hard. Just you and that camera you had that first day. Get ready!"

He gives me an angry look but selects a camera, goes through the contents of a canvas bag, grabs items and stuffs them in. Then he  pulls on pants, steps into sandals, flips the hood on his robe over his head and shambles towards the door.

In the land of the Fey, fairy/mortal mongrels like me live in the Maxee, the demimonde that has grown up around the Kingdom Beneath the Hill. We never grow old but are never admitted to the true Elvin lands.

Cross-breed here has another meaning. The sly faced boy who has just made Caravaggio's bed and now sits on it cross-legged, smiling at me as I depart, the black-as-night alto, the feathered girl who opens the door to let us out, are by-blows of the chimera craze that possessed this city in the years before the bombs and earthquake. Genetic manipulation was illegal and thus enticing.

     The day is growing warm. On the street, small bare children play in the water spraying from a busted fire hydrant.  For a moment I am caught, reminded of doing that back in the Maxee.

     Suddenly a bicyclist, a youth whose red skin blends with his entire wardrobe of scarlet silk drawers and the red bandana on his head, rides through the spray, sending shrieking children and drops of water in all directions. His lizard eyes flicker my way.

     Longingly I watch him speed down the broken street. The Maxee too had wild boys of a sort but I was the child of a Fey and so was kept a bit apart. I thought about them and envied them their lack of status when I was a child.

     Caravaggio looks at the bicyclist and at me and seems amused. I think this whole city is a hunting ground for him. I picture Caravaggio when the want assails him, going out and snagging a partridge girl or cat boy and carrying them indoors to dress a set, to warm a bed.

Heads turn as we hurry along the buckled sidewalks of this devastated but vital place. I hear someone murmur, "The devil steps out with an angel." And I see us reflected in a broken pane of glass: him stomping along like he has hoofed feet and me glowing like a minor sun.

     My companion calls out, "Morning, Al. Morning Flo," to the couple opening the soup kitchen on the corner. Under his breath he identifies them to me, "Albert Schweitzer and Florence Nightingale."

It still amazes and amuses me, all these mortals with immortal names. Jimi Hendrix, one eyed and white haired, plays guitar and sings old songs on the street. Calamity Jane collects scrap metal in a big truck that's mostly scrap metal itself. John Henry rides shotgun for her.

Then I hear rolling thunder from further uptown and realize I've allowed myself to be distracted by this city

Suddenly I am probed by a stranger. I block and get probed again. They’re trying to see what I see, to find out where I am. Immediately after that, I receive a command from Calithurn. "Jack, get back here, now!"

At that same moment there is a yellow flash and Lionel Standler appears at the wheel of his cab. With a dead cigar stub in his mouth and a cap pulled down over his eyes, Lionel too has taken a name from the legendary past: the original was an actor who played cab drivers in old movies.

He has become chauffeur for the House of Calithurn. I'd told him to stay out of sight after he'd driven me down here this morning. I help Caravaggio haul himself into the back seat and jump in beside him as the cab takes off.

Deftly swerving around pits in the street, jumping only once onto the sidewalk to avoid a fresh rubble heap on Eighth Avenue; Lionel rolls towards the park and the Palace Calithurn.

The city, Gotham, is a hodgepodge of trash built on the ruins of wonders. Wherever two streets cross at least one of the four buildings on the corners will have been reduced to a pile of rubble years ago and left that way. The lights go off at odd hours of the day and night.

Old men with lined faces and beards will point up to where silver spires once pierced the sky. Women can be gotten to talk of the wonderland of stores that existed here in their youth. They sit on broken benches in a park where an arch has collapsed and a gibbet stands ready and waiting. They say that at night music could once be heard from the open doors of a thousand clubs and blasting out of car radios and that musicians played on subway platforms under the streets.

The life I lived in the Maxee was not so far removed from the ones I see around me. My mother came from Gotham decades ago in human terms; years as the Fey reckon it, when it was a powerful and prosperous city.

In Elfland she met and lost my father, a Fey who rose to high rank and abandoned us. She owned The Careless Rapture, a café in the Maxee district and left it to me when she died.

It was there that Calithurn found me when he was having trouble with his father, Clathurin, the King Beneath the Hill. He hid out in my bedroom upstairs from the café when the King's officers were looking for him.

And I was the only one he took with him when he fled from that place of well ordered magic and quiet oppression to the gut-wrenching stench and glimpses of grandeur, the chaos and chimeras of the mortal world and the city of Gotham.

It has never happened before but I've had two separate Foretellings of Calithurn and my future. Both are vivid but both can not be true. In one we ride through the city on winged horses to the cheers of the crowds. In the other we stand on a hill in the wind and rain surrounded by our enemies with no hope of escape. Lately, the second has seemed the most likely.

 Cal has told me many times that we will not go back; surrender does not enter into it. We will face death right here, the two of us. I no longer think he really believes this.

 

 

                     2.

 

From a few blocks away, I can see the Palace Calithurn bathed in Glamour and the noonday sun. Flecks of light, like bits of diamonds, shine in the black stone surface. The flags of the prince, a silver unicorn leaping over a blue globe with the inscription in Elvish, I Invite Your Envy, fly in a constant magic breeze above the turrets.

Lionel stops when I tell him to. "There may be trouble. Keep out of sight," I say, "Be ready to take Caravaggio back to his studio."

What magic I have is passive. Prepared for troubles today, I wear my favorite Fey clothing and my most precious ornaments and jewelry. I have a wallet with sixty thousand dollars in local currency in the pouch pocket of my riding britches. In my jacket pocket is a rap gun that can knock down ten men at fifty paces. In my right boot is a jump knife that will come to my hand from three feet away. 

When the earth moved and the city fell, some parts that were built on solid rock or saved through fate stood while all else went down.  The big old buildings that remain on the west side of the overgrown park are like armed forts, like compounds, where the magnates of the city live. 

It was through Calithurn's cleverness or the kind of instinct for ruling that he'd inherited from his father that he had ensorcelled this palace among the castles of the wealthy and powerful. Almost as soon as we arrived, he took a devastated building, not much more than a pile of rubble and through magic and enchantment raised this breath-taking, infuriating place.

It lies so close to the headquarters of the Bank of Shanghai which owns the city's future and to the home of Santee, the boss who makes and unmakes mayors, that no one dares to assault it or bomb it from the air. A tank lying smashed in the street is testimony to mortal frailty and the eternal vigilance of Lord Calithurn.

Caravaggio pauses for a moment pointing his camera up. "Chutzpa," he mutters, "Hubris. Balls beyond those of mortal men."

As we approach the front gates, the building shimmers for a moment. Only I notice that the Fey Glamour has faltered.

The guards who keep back the constant throngs of favor seekers and gawkers call themselves Fess Parker and John Wayne. Parker is a tall thin man in buckskin and a raccoon cap, one blue eye squinting against the sun, the other wide and clear. He cradles an AK47. The other man is husky, hands like hammers, guns strapped on both hips. His eyes are hidden in the shadow of his Stetson brim. But Wayne telegraphs in his blunt, artless way that he's staring at your every move.

They nod, almost bow, to me and wave along my companion who pauses to film them. We pass through the gates into the courtyard where the magic horses, Bellephron and Callistro, snort and flap their wings.

Not two months ago, Cal and I rode these chimeras out of Elfland and into this city. I argued back then that we should let them go home and make ourselves inconspicuous, live among the people and get some sense of this place. Cal would have none of this. He is a prince. So we lived in this palace he wrought and we made ourselves known and envied.

After that first assault failed, the magnates of the city didn't dare attack us. But there were ones in Elfland, enemies of his father, who were happy to find the prince alone except for his half-breed boyfriend. At first Calithurn slapped them away. Now they have returned in numbers.

Inside, on the main stairs, Selesta sweeps past us, her small ears drawn back, and hisses her defiance. An actress, a singer, Calithurn's newest mistress, she still thinks that I'm jealous when all I am is disappointed. About his favorites of the moment, Cal told me, "Mortal toys, Jack, nothing more."

Whereas I, only part mortal, would count as only partly a toy.

I hear what sounds like distant thunder. The palace gives a small lurch and I see us again, Calithurn and myself, just the two of us standing with our horses on a hill with wind and rain and our enemies all round us.

We find Cal in the roof garden sprawled on the longest couch in all of Gotham. He stands and embraces me and for a moment with his golden hair and dark eyes he is the lover I first knew, the one who could suddenly appear swinging in my bedroom window and who, when he departed, would stride across the dawn sky waving farewell.

We came to middle earth, to this city, to form an alliance with the wronged and desperate mortals. With them, we said, we would return to the land of the Fey and break the hold of Clathurin, the King Beneath the Hill, and the father of Cal. Our idea was naïve and thus dangerous.

Where all was sunshine a few minutes before, clouds have rolled in. I find myself deflecting a mental probe from not that far away, and then deflecting another. These aren't attempts to communicate. The Fey who have reached out are trying to smash their way into my consciousness.

Calithurn's eyes flicker and I know he's feeling the same thing. Then he closes his eyes and with arms outstretched, turns 360 degrees. Briefly the probes cease, the sky lightens.

 I'd forgotten about Caravaggio. But he's still present, still filming. I turn to introduce him.

And I see in the man's eyes his desire for Calithurn. It's plain that my lord has conquered this mortal artist, this pot bellied man whose scars are the most interesting thing about his body.

My Calithurn's lip curls. He shows the two of us a house in a neighborhood of similar houses, a fat, fairly happy looking little boy on a tricycle, an ordinary couple smiling at what is obviously their child.

As we see the images we are told: Louis Falco, born in Bethpage fifty years ago, child of a civil servant and a dentist. They never understood why you took the name Caravaggio. You blight this world. Turn that camera off or you and it will be a puddle on the floor."

I catch the anger in Caravaggio's eyes, the contempt in Calithurn's glance and step between them. With my lord in such a mood, expressing his rage would be fatal for the mortal.

At that moment, the attack begins again. Thunder rolls and lightning splits the sky. One probe after another hits us. This distracts Calithurn enough that his Glamour, the magic that holds the palace together, flickers. I hear the building groan.

"We need to get everybody out before people are hurt," I say. "We're drawing fire and putting them in danger."

Calithurn shrugs, "It is time we set out on our travels," he says and sounds almost bored.

I yell for the palace to be evacuated and we head for the stairs. The building shakes as we descend. In the courtyard Bellephron and Callistro stamp and unfurl their wings. Servants stream past. Chunks of stone fall around us. Selesta is there with a suitcase full of what she considers to be valuables. Calithurn mounts Bellephron and lifts her up without ceremony. I'm on Callistro when the gates open and we canter out into the street.

"Get the people away from this place," I hear myself shouting. Fess Parker and John Wayne and the other guards force the crowds back. The horses spread their wings and glide across the street and into the park.

I hear a roar and a collective gasp and look back. My lord has abandoned his toy. Without his attention, the Palace is gone, disappeared in a cloud of dust. The rubble we first found is all that remains. I spot Caravaggio filming it all.

 

 

                        3.

 

     Entering the park, I know that Calithurn is going back to Elfland and that his time in Gotham has been a kind of royal tantrum, his talk of helping the mortals was idle chatter. Cal has been my lover and is my lord. I will be loyal to him and true while he is here. But as I've fallen out of love with him, I've fallen in love with this city.

We pause on a grassy rise and it's somewhat like what the Foretelling showed me. But that was a wilderness and a blasted heath and this is an overgrown park with buildings or the ruins of buildings visible through the trees, with Selesta whimpering and the remains of squatters' camps underfoot.

It's dark, though, with the wind blowing rain as I'd foreseen and I can see figures, some mounted on winged steeds, in the trees before us. This is the beginning of the road to Elfland and we are not going to get through it without a fight. Cal looks around and it occurs to me that he has run out of ideas and is waiting to be rescued.

Then I'm hit by mental probes, one after another. I've never been punched repeatedly in the face but that's what I think of when I can't block all of them and some get through. I feel bits of memory, my mother's tired smile, my father's constant surprise at his half mortal son, the streets of the Maxee where I grew up, being yanked out of my skull.   

Someone catches images from my Foretelling, sees as I saw the pair of us surrounded in the wind and rain. Someone else finds the fear I feel as this happens and twists it. Poor Callistro, whom I'd been trying to protect, gets spooked and rises up in terror, bucks and throws me.

Then I'm on the ground fallen on my right shoulder. There is shooting pain, my limbs are jerking and my head is banging up and down. There's blood in my throat, my left eye is clouded and my shoulder feels like it's broken.

Cal is standing over me broadcasting, "Off of him you cowards! Who will fight me? Let each of you sons of bitches challenge me one at a time!" And I know this is the end of us and want to be on my feet beside him.

Then all at once with nothing first, there is a huge bang and bright light. The rain is gone and a great voice bellows, 'WHO DARES DO THIS TO MY SON?"

Cal is silent, staring and I manage to half rise and look where he does. King Clathurin and all his power are here, thousands of Fey with their armor glittering. Clathurin is a big man but at this moment, he is gigantic.

"STAND FORTH AND FACE ME," he commands and waves his scepter wand. When I look over to the trees, there are bodies strewn about on the grass and none of them are moving.

 King Clathurin looks around for a moment then he turns and comes to Prince Calithurn who steps forward. They embrace and Clathurin's host raises their weapons in salute.

I struggle to my feet when I see the king walking away with his arm around his son. And I understand that Calithurn's expedition to Gotham was just a way of getting the attention of The King under the Hill.

 The presence of so much Glamour makes my eye clear, stops the bleeding in my mouth and the pain in my shoulder.

Cal hasn't even looked back. I'm having trouble thinking. But I understand that if I did return, he and I will not be together. I will live again in the Maxee, the great demimonde, like my mother and all the other past and present lovers of the Fey. I will become one of the local legends. "That half breed was the lover of Calithurn. Long ago, they went off to mortal lands together."

Selesta trails after Lord Calithurn not understanding that she's already forgotten just as I am. I wonder if my old coffee house the Careless Rapture is still there and if they will think to give it to her. 

Would I have gone back with them if Clathurin had taken me in his arms as he did his son? Probably. But that wasn't going to happen. I am a half-breed who has become inconvenient.

Will I follow Cal if he turns and gestures for me? No. I am going to remain here with the other chimera.

Then, as suddenly as he appeared, King Clathurin is gone, along with Calithurn and the rest, gone with not a trace of their Glamour left behind.

     And I'm alone in this strange land, feeling like the insides have been knocked out of me. The Fey do not laugh and do not cry and I inherited that from my father. I did not cry at my mother's death and I do not cry at this.

It strikes me that the futures I foresaw for Cal and myself may just have been scenes from movies that hadn't yet been made. At that moment, the Foretelling takes me again.

I see myself in high summer with the fox boy and some of the others from the studio. We are on a sidewalk walking down to the river. I am dark-tanned, not ephemeral in the least, dressed like the other street kids in nothing but my baggy shorts and with my hair tied up under a blue head bandana. It would seem to be late summer, four or five months from this moment. And I'm too dizzy and confused to know what to make of it.

"Jackie, you look like you're lost," I hear Caravaggio say. He's right beside me but sounds like he's far off and under water. "You took quite a fall there."

He turns me around and I see the yellow cab up on the grass. Lionel helps me into the back seat. Caravaggio gets in on the other side and we make a U turn.

     "It doesn't seem like he can take care of himself," Lionel says "His boyfriend's got enemies that would love to pick him clean. No doubt off him."             

None of this feels like it has anything to do with me. We drive out of the park. A mob of scavengers is crawling over the rubble of the Palace Calithurn, a couple of them spot the cab, one or two have guns. But Lionel is too fast for them and speeds away.

     "I can hide Jackie among the crew at the studio," Caravaggio says. "But we need to make him less noticeable."

     "Here's a place." The cab swerves and suddenly it's twilight in an alleyway between two buildings. I notice that Caravaggio has attached a small camera to the cab ceiling. Lionel opens my door of the cab. "OK Jackie," he says, "Hand over the clothes and valuables."

     "Why?" I try to go for the rap pistol.

     Caravaggio says, "Because there are two men and a boy in this cab," and pins me. Lionel pulls my ibex leather jacket and silk shirt off over my head. There's a burst of pain in my shoulder and I cry out. 

     "Look at those bruises!" Lionel says.

     "Nothing broken anymore or he'd be screaming. He heals fast is my guess. That black eye is fading already. I think maybe there's a slight concussion," says Caravaggio.

     As they talk they're working on me. My head spins, pain shoots through my shoulder and I can't stop them. In moments the rings on my fingers, the one my mother gave me, the one that my father owned, are drawn off my hands. My watch and bracelets and earrings and the gold collar around my neck, love gifts of Calithurn get taken.

     "Make a move for that jump knife Jackie and I'll break your other arm!" Lionel says. My boots of Elvin leather, the hose woven in Moir, the belt with the heavy silver buckle, are stripped off me.

     I hold onto the waist of my riding britches and beg to keep them. Even these knee pants would be a small sign of status and there's the wallet and money in the side pouch. It's just about all I have left.

     "I looked forward to doing this," Caravaggio says and yanks them off me. "And this," he adds riffling through my wallet and papers. Lionel pulls down my under shorts to make sure I haven't got anything else to steal but lets me keep those.

     "A young man of affairs wearing a small fortune on his back one minute," says Lionel, gathering everything up, "A boy with nothing in the world but his silk drawers the next."

     It's a warm day but I understand what's been done to me and feel like I've been run through with an icicle. Even if I could find the way, I can't go back to Elfland like this and I have no one here to turn to.

     Caravaggio pulls my hair into a tight knot in back, ties a bandanna on my head. He pops open a palm sized screen and shows me the picture the camera is capturing. I'm amazed to see myself as I appeared in the Foretelling.

     Caravaggio, murmurs, "You think only Fey can read minds, Jackie Boy? I've seen how you looked at my crew, at the boys on the street. You were curious but disdainful. Now you're going to find out about that life first hand."

     Driving downtown, Caravaggio, speaks softly. "If we hadn't gotten you out of the park, you'd be dead by now. We could have left you in that alleyway and you'd be dead by midnight. You're still alive and I'm going to keep you that way. You're going to learn how to survive in this world." 

     He has his arm around me and massages my neck like I'm a nervous show animal, and says, "With what I shot today and my half of the take from what you had on you, I'm going to make the greatest film to come out of this city in a decade."

     I want to ask him why I've been robbed and humiliated and what is going to become of me. Then we arrive outside the studio and Lionel opens the cab door. I realize that in the course of an afternoon I've lost everything and now am nobody. And anyone who sees me from now on will know that. I flinch away and want to hide.

     But Caravaggio forces me out onto the sidewalk saying, "Get used to it Jackie. The first time you ever ordered me around, which was the first time we met, I told Lionel I'd lead you into my studio dressed just as you are right now."

     "And I thought you were crazy," Lionel laughs.  Before he leaves, he says, "Go easy on him Caravaggio; he always tried to do right by me and the others."

     Caravaggio has hold of my good arm or I'd try somehow to cover myself. I did not cry for my mother or for Lord Calithurn and I do not cry at this. Though if I was mortal, I think I would.

     This world has traps a Fey could never imagine. This morning I strode down this street and heads turned. Now the pavement is rough on my bare feet and I need to watch out for broken glass. In the Foretelling I walk on it easily.

     Ordinary passersby pay almost no attention to one like me.  But when the feathered girl opens the door I see in her eyes awe that her boss has magic that can turn an arrogant Fey into this cringing street urchin.

     The rest of the chimeras, more than I ever guessed were there, gather as I'm led by the hand through the studio. Some are astounded; some are highly amused that the well-heeled visitor of the morning has returned to the zoo, stripped and bruised, as the newest addition to the menagerie. I hear giggles and whispers as I'm shown to Caravaggio's bed.

     In the Foretelling these are my friends and I can look people in the eye. But that's a future possibility. There's more wonder and terror in any square foot of Gotham than in all of Elfland.

      Exhaustion is about to take me when I hear Caravaggio say, "His name is Jackie Boy and he's come from a long way off to find his true home among us."  Then he tells the story of how I lost everything I thought I had.

 

END

 

"City of Chimeras" was originally published in Helix, summer of 2006.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

You can support GlitterShip by checking out our Patreon at patreon.com/keffy, subscribing to our feed, or by leaving reviews on iTunes.

Thanks for listening, and I'll be back in early December with a GlitterShip original!

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Episode #29: Learned People by Chelsea Eckert

November 1, 2016

LEARNED PEOPLE is a GLITTERSHIP ORIGINAL


Learned People

by Chelsea Eckert

She's on her bed, on her knees, leaning against the window so that her face is pressed against it. Her fingers are interlinked across her gut, and she's dead. Absolutely. Paleness clings to her like dust on a moth's wing.

For a while I lean against the wall. The paint is a lumpy, intestine pink, which is/was Tess's favorite color. Hard whimpers push their way out of me. I am, for a moment, blind and deaf. A wolf pup at the tit. When I feel more awake I push myself steady and climb onto the bed. Tess doesn't blink. Her eyes are on the sky. One lid twitches.

No, not dead.



Full transcript after the cut.


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Episode #28: “Sarah’s Child” by Susan Jane Bigelow

May 24, 2016

Sarah’s Child

Susan Jane Bigelow

Once, I dreamed that I had a son named Sheldon, and my grief tore a hole in the fabric of the world.

In my dream I walked through the halls of an elementary school, and I went into the office. Everything was gray and blocky, but somehow not oppressive. I was certain, then, that it was the elementary school in my old hometown, and that I was both myself and also not myself.

Full transcript after the cut

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Episode #27: “Just a Little Spice Will Do” by Andrew Wilmot

May 10, 2016

 Just a Little Spice Will Do

by Andrew Wilmot

When Alex arrived home Sunday night with an overflowing grocery bag tucked under each arm, she saw her girlfriend doubled over at the waist, retching violently into the kitchen sink.

“Lindy?” She dropped both bags and rushed over.Lindy gripped the edge of the counter and heaved again, spitting a viscous strand of amaranth red into the stainless steel sink; it came out of her in small globules strung together like Christmas lights. Alex put one hand on her back andthe other on her shoulder, but Lindy flinched, shuddering as if they were blocks of ice. It was then Alex noticed the rectangular Tupperware container on the countertop to Lindy’s right. Next to it, a thin sausage wedge of Alex’s heart beat gently on one of her mother’s China plates. She looked inside the plastic container and noticed a new gash in the organ, a little south of the left atrium.

Full transcript after the cut.

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Episode #26: Three Flash stories by Kat Howard, Nino Cipri, and Bogi Takács

April 22, 2016

The Face of Heaven So Fine

Kat Howard

There is an entire history in the stars. Light takes time to travel, to get from wherever the star is to wherever we can see it, here, on Earth. So when you think about it, when we see the stars, we are looking back in time. Everything those stars actually shone on has already happened. But just because a story already happened, that doesn’t mean it’s finished.

Full transcript after the cut.

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Episode #25: “Straw and Gold” by Kate O’Connor

April 5, 2016

Straw and Gold

By Kate O’Connor

Orin did not know the feel of gold. There was none to be found in his father’s mill. There were coins of tangy, sharp copper and rough iron fittings on the door, slick steel for the horses’ tack and clattering tin plates for the table. His sister had a silver ring that had belonged to their mother. It was smooth and cool as a night breeze on Jessa’s delicate finger when she held his hand, warm against his skin where it now sat. But none of those things were gold.

The padded stool underneath him was by far the most comfortable piece of furniture he had ever sat upon. The king was a clever man. Fear and wealth could drive a person to incredible feats. He clearly thought to give a bit of both to the woman who might live up to her father’s boasting, even if he thought her father a liar. Magic was rare – and it meant power. Orin tugged at the veil that covered his short hair then ran his fingertips over the wood of the spinning wheel. The finely-sanded surface was slick with polish.

Full transcipt after the cut.

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Episode #24: “Lamia Victoriana” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

March 15, 2016

Lamia Victoriana

by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The poet’s sister has teeth as white as new lace. When she speaks, which is rarely, I feel a shiver down my skin.

I am not here for this. I am here to persuade my own sister, Mary, that she has made a terrible mistake, that eloping as she has with this poet who cannot marry her, will not only be her own ruin, but that of our family.

My tongue stumbles on the words, and every indignant speech I practiced on my way here has melted to nothing. The poet looks at me with his calm, beautiful eyes, and Mary sits scandalously close to him, determined to continue in her path of debauchery and wickedness. I cannot take my eyes from the poet’s sister.

Full transcript after the cut:

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Episode 23: “Je me souviens” by Su J. Sokol

February 29, 2016

Je me souviens

by Su J. Sokol

There are nine police cars. I count them again just to be sure and because counting usually calms me.

Arielle watches to see if I’m freaking out, asks if I want to leave. I tell her I’m OK but she's not reassured so I give her a sexy smile. If she would kiss me now, I’d have somewhere pleasant to channel my beating heart. She leans towards me and I see that she’s used her superpowers to read my mind again, but then another police car arrives, drawing her attention away.

Now ten police cars face two hundred and thirty-six demonstrators. We are peaceful, banging pots and chanting slogans. Our numbers include children, old people, commuters on bikes, dogs wearing red bandanas. A cop is speaking through a bullhorn but no one can hear him because of the clanging and chanting. Will they arrest us now? My heart beats like the wings of a falcon, trying to escape the prison of my chest.

Full transcript after the cut.

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 23 for March 1, 2016. I'm your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to be sharing this story with you.

I'm extending the period for responses to the GlitterShip listener favorites poll until March 5th. You can find a link in the transcript for this episode at GlitterShip.com

GlitterShip Poll

Our story today is "Je me souviens" by Su J. Sokol.

Su is an activist, a cyclist, and a writer of interstitial fiction. A former legal services lawyer from New York City, Sokol immigrated to Montréal in 2004 where she works as a social rights advocate. Her short stories have been published in The Future Fire and Spark: A Creative Anthology. Her debut novel, Cycling to Asylum, was long-listed for the 2015 Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. "Je me souviens" was first published in 2012 by the Future Fire and was recently republished in TFFX, the The Future Fire's tenth anniversary anthology.

Our guest reader today is Leigh Wallace.

Leigh is a Canadian writer, artist and public servant. You can find her latest story in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe and her art at leighfive.deviantart.com

I've also been asked for trigger warnings in the past. This story does contain references to police violence and anti-gay torture.

Je me souviens

by Su J. Sokol

There are nine police cars. I count them again just to be sure and because counting usually calms me.

Arielle watches to see if I’m freaking out, asks if I want to leave. I tell her I’m OK but she's not reassured so I give her a sexy smile. If she would kiss me now, I’d have somewhere pleasant to channel my beating heart. She leans towards me and I see that she’s used her superpowers to read my mind again, but then another police car arrives, drawing her attention away.

Now ten police cars face two hundred and thirty-six demonstrators. We are peaceful, banging pots and chanting slogans. Our numbers include children, old people, commuters on bikes, dogs wearing red bandanas. A cop is speaking through a bullhorn but no one can hear him because of the clanging and chanting. Will they arrest us now? My heart beats like the wings of a falcon, trying to escape the prison of my chest.

I tell myself that this is Québec. They will not put a black bag over my head. They will not throw me in the trunk of one of their cars. They will not burn me with cigarettes after beating me. No, this doesn’t happen here ... I am pretty sure. They have granted me permanent residence and have even hired me to teach their children math. So I will stay here and demonstrate for my students.

The police open the trunks of their vans. I’m concentrating on my breathing, on not blanking out, when a little ball of energy in a red cape flies into my legs.

La policía, they are here to catch the bad guys, Papa?” he asks me, his speech the usual jumble of French, Spanish and English.

Before I can speak, Arielle answers. “No, mon petit chéri, this is not why they’re here today.” Her face is an eloquent mix of amusement and sadness.

I will catch them, then! But first Papa must fly me home so I can eat my supper.”

C’est correct? Can we go home now?” Arielle asks me.

I shrug, hiding my relief, and lift Raphaël high over my head. I run full out towards our home, fast enough so that his cape flies out behind him and fast enough that my own need to run is satisfied. Our four-year-old superhero has come to the rescue.

The next morning, despite a sleep fragmented by nightmares, I’m energized, thinking about being a part of something important again. This was not my first demonstration in my new home, but the first of this kind—spontaneous, focused, a little confrontational. And joyous. Even more so than the mass manifestation when our numbers first surpassed 250,000.

That day, I stood at the overpass by rue Berri, Raphaël on my shoulders, watching the street below swell with a current of demonstrators wide as the Rio Grande. I’m good at counting, my eyes instinctively grouping people into hundreds, thousands, tens and hundreds of thousands. Surely they must listen now, I thought. Surely they will see the beauty, the rightness of our cause!

Our euphoria was short-lived as we watched the news and listened to the lies about our goals, our numbers. Last night, with our pots, with our “casseroles”, we banged out our anger and turned it into music. I am proud, too, that les casseroles, “los caserolazos”, are borrowed from the political traditions of my own people.

Now, standing at the front of my high school math class, I feel strong, in control. Numbers—they do not lie to you; they do not let you down. I explain the first problem, my eyes scanning the classroom, counting students. Someone is missing. When I’m presenting the second problem, Xavier stumbles in, limping slightly and with his left eye blackened.

I don’t ask him for his late pass nor for his homework. I even let him read whatever it is he’s awkwardly hidden behind his math textbook. A large oval bruise on his upper arm is already aging, turning from black to green. As I answer a student’s question, my mind goes through a familiar set of choices:  the police, youth protection, the directrice of the school ... When the authorities were called in last time, it did not end well: denials and threats of legal action by his politically connected family, followed by unexplained absences.

I ask Xavier to remain after class is over. He approaches my desk, giving me a sullen look from under his long hair. There seems little point in asking him what happened, so instead, I ask him what he’s reading. He hesitates, then shrugs and places it in my hand.

“C’est une bande-dessinée. A ‘Comic book’ in English.”

“I am not anglophone,” I say.

“Yeah, but you’re not from here, are you?”

He says this like I might be from Mars or some other planet.

“Why do the people in the bande-dessinée have the heads of animals?” I ask. “Are they superheroes, these animal-headed people?”

“I’m not ten years old. I don’t believe in superheroes.”

“I would like to help you, Xavi.”

“I don’t need anyone’s help. And I can’t stay. There’s a student union meeting. To vote on the strike.”

Enthusiasm has replaced his precocious cynicism. But then I watch him limp away, a sense of helplessness making my own limbs feel heavy.

The end of the day finds me in the teachers’ lounge. Luc joins me, compositions from his students clutched in his big hands. I gaze up at my best friend and he quickly drops down beside me.

Qu’est-ce que tu as?” he asks, reading me as always.

“Xavier came into class today all beaten up. I don’t know what I should do.”

“If you suspect something ...”

“It is beyond suspecting. I know what’s happening and it’s not just beatings.”

“Are you sure of this?” he asks.

I simply look at him. He knows about my past. Not just the torture but the rapes as well. Luc was able to get this information out of me even when the tribunal could not.

“Don’t worry, Gabriel, I have friends at youth protection. We’ll find a way to help him.”

I feel a little reassured. I move closer, so that I can lean against him. He lets me, even puts his arm around my shoulder. Some of the darkness leaks out of me.

If Arielle were here, she would be happy, seeing how I can still take comfort from other men. She was my lawyer at the refugee hearing and accepts me as I am. She tried to prepare me for their questions, but I failed her. On such and such a date, they asked me, had I been tortured for my political crimes or for the crime of being queer? It seemed important to be precise about this, but I was confused. Maybe I was tortured for the former and raped for the latter. The fear of disappointing the officials, of making them angry, made my words flee. Perhaps that’s why, in the middle of the hearing, I blanked out.

“I should go home,” I say to Luc. “To cook supper. Arielle is counting on me.”

“How is Arielle?”

“She is good. We had very hot sex last night. Do you want to hear about it?”

I feel happy thinking about this while leaning against Luc’s shoulder. It was when Arielle and I made love for the first time, on the floor of her office, that I realized she had superpowers. I hadn’t been sure before, even though she’d rescued me from the hearing. Arielle might even have won my case, but instead, she found a way to spare me the pain of testifying. She offered to marry me, explaining it in logical, lawyerly terms. She’d just gone through another in a series of unreliable roommates and untrustworthy boyfriends. She wanted someone who shared her political values to also share, on a longterm basis, the household expenses and cooking. And one other thing. She wanted a child.

Luc tells me maybe another time, after a few beers.

“Will we go somewhere that has ‘Maudite’ beer?” I ask him. “I like the picture on the label, of the flying canoe, la chasse galerie.”

“Speaking of which, I have that book for Raphaël. Of old Québecois tales, including a few chasse galerie stories.” He hands me a large volume, the edges soft with use.

“It’s beautiful,” I say, running my fingers along the expensive binding.

“My parents gave me this collection. Keep it as long as you need it.”

Merci beaucoup mon cher ami,” I say, kissing him on both cheeks and then once on the lips for good measure. He accepts my shows of affection with his usual aplomb.

That night, I tell Raphaël my own version of a chasse galerie story.

Once upon a time, men were chopping down trees deep in the winter forest. They were sad because they missed their children and partners.”

Where were they, Papa?”

In another forest ... planting trees to replace those that had been cut down. So one day, the men boarded a magic canoe to visit their loved ones.”

“Were they superheroes?”

Claro que si. They could mix their powers together into one big superpower. That’s how they made the canoe fly. But there was a super villain too, and he ... he sprinkled forgetting dust into their eyes so that they could not remember who they were, and their canoe started falling down to the earth.”

“Oh no! What happened?”

“Flying Boy came to the rescue. He brought the boat down safely and used a magical washcloth to wipe the forgetting dust out of the men’s eyes.”

Was Flying Boy wearing his red cape?”

“Yes. And now it’s time for superheroes to go to sleep.”

“Papa? Why did the super villain make the men forget things? Why is he bad?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a bad thing happened to him, something he needed to forget. Good night Flying Boy.”

“Good night, Papa.”

I tuck him into bed, trying to ignore a growing darkness. I make myself think of the night Rapha was born. The moment I held him, I knew he’d been gifted with strong powers and that it was my job to protect him until he was old enough to use them safely. This responsibility is what has kept me from ending my own worthless life.

Arielle is watching the nightly update about the strike. There’s a late-breaking development about a student who’s in critical condition after a cop's plastic bullet struck her in the eye. I pull Arielle onto my lap and hide my face in her curls while counting to myself. Maybe Arielle will use her powers tonight to make me forget things that strike and burn and tear into tender flesh.

On Facebook, I learn that this week has been declared “une semaine de résistance” for secondary school students. Our school votes to go on strike, but staff must report to work as usual. I stay in the teachers’ lounge, not wanting to be alone, but I’m restless, so I go down the hall and stand at the entrance. At nine o’clock, the police arrive in full riot gear and declare the students’ picket illegal. They open their trunks and pull out shiny yellow vests and canisters of malevolent substances. I walk back into the teachers’ lounge. 

“We should be out there,” I say to the others.

A debate ensues but many teachers are missing, still in their classrooms.

“I’ll get them,” Luc volunteers. He turns to me. “Stay here until I get back.”

I wait for a while, then go to the front entrance again and see the beginnings of trouble between a group of students and the riot cops. Just then, Luc appears.

Venez dehors! Nos étudiants se font embêter!” he shouts to the others.

I run outside and Luc catches up to me, his hand closing around my upper arm. I pull him with me as I throw myself between the students and the riot police. We’re shoved but keep to our feet and Luc is saying Calmez-vous, calmez-vous,” making eye contact with each of the cops in front of us, patiently explaining that we are teachers, a French teacher and a Mathematics teacher, and that we must all remain calm to set a good example.

After a few tense moments, more teachers come outside. We join hands, forming a barrier between the students and the police. The students chant slogans like “Education is a right” and “À qui nos écoles? À nous nos écoles”. Luc pulls L’Étranger from his back pocket and begins reciting from it. I spot Xavier, a courageous smile on his face. By the end of the morning, almost all of my colleagues have joined us and the police have retreated to their cars. I grip Luc’s hand tighter and think about kissing every single teacher standing with us. With these heroes beside me, I feel invincible.

The next night I have a beer with Luc at a café on rue St. Denis. I finish five ‘Maudites’ and am feeling a nice buzz from that. I told Arielle I’d eat something with Luc. I can’t lie to her so I steal a handful of his fries. He offers me his burger but I shake my head, too keyed up to eat much.

“Shouldn’t we be going?” I ask. “The manif is scheduled to begin at 21 hours.”

“It’s not like the theatre, my friend. We don’t have to be there when the curtain rises. You sure this is alright with Arielle? There’s more risk being arrested at night.”

“I have promised to be careful.”

At Parc Émilie-Gamelin, I’m in my element. It’s hot for late September. A thick darkness envelops me. There’s an aura of unpredictability that I appreciate because deep down, I’m an optimist who believes that whatever happens next has got to be better than what we already have. My lips move to the chants. An anarchist marching band playing circus music draws me in deeper, to where the park is filled with magic.

Luc introduces me to people he knows. After a while, I wander off as he gets into conversation with one of his ex-girlfriends. There’s a group of men wearing dark clothing on the fringes of the manif. They’re rowdy and loud and exude a dangerous energy. I’m drawn to them. I also want to run from them. I find myself a couple of metres closer to the group, though I don’t remember deciding to approach them. In fact, I remember deciding the opposite. My feet are taking more steps in their direction and I can’t make myself stop. The men are carrying something in their hands. Their eyes flash yellow in the darkness. I’m terrified and mesmerized as I come closer still. One raises his arm with a look of gleeful malice. Someone grabs my shirt from behind.

Câlisse de tabarnak,” Luc shouts. “Can’t I turn my back on you for a minute?” My collar is bunched up in his fist as he guides me, not gently, out of the park.

“Who are those guys?” I ask. “They looked like skinheads with hair.”

Agents provocateurs or just assholes. What difference does it make? You know to stay away from them.”

“They have evil powers. I couldn’t pull away.”

“You’ve had too many beers. It’s time to go home.”

I leave with him, but I know I’ll be back. I’ve found another activity where it feels right that I’m still alive. I count through the list in my head: Taking care of Raphaël, teaching my students, making love, going to manifs. I’ll just have to be careful to avoid the super villains. If our collective actions succeed, it may even give me back some of the life force stolen from me when I was a teenager.

Arielle and I are watching the news. She’s become a news junkie in the same way that I’ve become a junkie for demonstrations.

“Our government makes me ashamed to be Québécoise,” Arielle says.

“The real Québec is in the streets, marching and chanting and demonstrating. Come out with me more. You would feel better,” I tell her.

She touches my cheek. “You reassuring me. It should be the other way around.”

Of course the police violence and new repressive laws frighten me. But conditions in Québec, politically and socially, are still better than in the country where I was born. It’s for this very reason that whenever things become worse here, I feel nauseous, like the world is spinning in the wrong direction.

“Let’s go together to the nude manif tomorrow. It will be fun. I can put fleur-de-lys pasties on your nipples.”

She smiles and I know I’ve convinced her.

The next day, Arielle calls me at school to say that they’re concerned about Raphaël at the garderie. He’s telling everyone that he’s a superhero and trying to fly off tables and playground equipment. They’ve asked for a meeting.

“I can go, Arielle.”

“They’ve asked that I come, specifically.”

“That is sexism.”

“No, it’s more that...”

“What?”

“It’s because of what you told Raphaël, last time this happened. That he needed to wait until he was older to use his superpowers. And to only use them when they’re needed.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“No, not angry but ... We’ll talk more later. Are you still going to the manif?”

“Yes.”

“There’s usually less police violence at the nude ones. You’ll be careful?”

“Of course. I love you.”

Without Arielle and Raphaël, the apartment feels a little sinister. It’s better in Raphaël ’s room where I can sense him in his toys and artwork. I hold on to one of his superhero figures and draw strength from that. Next, I enter our bedroom. I wrap my arms around Arielle’s pillow and breathe in her familiar odour. Feeling stronger, I go to the shelf in the back of my closet and find the box that I haven’t opened since my uncle smuggled me out of my country. I take out the red cape, red feathered mask and calf-high red boots. The cape against my nose, I smell the streets of my childhood and adolescence.

My mother sewed this costume, but she did not bring me up to believe in superheroes. My parents were university professors. Both were politically active, proud of my work for the student newspaper and tolerant of my sexuality. Their openness and support encouraged me to finally tell what my uncle did to me.

No, my parents did not believe in superheroes. Nor did they believe in super villains. Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it can’t kill you. They never should have gone to the police. My uncle was too powerful. Their so-called car accident left me without protection, with thoughts of vengeance like cold ashes in my mouth.

I hold the costume in my hands, remembering when I wore it so proudly. It was after “los casserolazos”, after the occupation, and after the kiss-in, but the taste of my classmates’ lips was still fresh in my memory. The superhero demonstration was the last one before I was taken. Like me, only parts of the costume survived, but maybe some traces of the powers that were stolen from me remain in the material. I shove it into a bag and head for my bike.          

I’m marching down rue Ste-Catherine wearing my cape, my boots, my mask and nothing else. The breeze feels good on my bare skin. My boots protect my feet and my mask protects my identity. It’s almost like having the power of invisibility.

Everyone is friendly, many people talk to me. Some take my picture. I know I’m good looking but I take no pride in this. I did nothing to earn my looks, yet, it’s something I’ve had to pay for, repeatedly. “Excuse me,” I say to the person who’s chatting with me.“I have to stop here.” On the side street under a circus canopy stands a man wearing a red kerchief who has the dark eyes and quirked smile of my country of birth. He’s holding a six-inch tall toy polar bear banging a miniature pot with a tiny, perfectly formed wooden spoon. The bear is wearing the flag of Québec as a cape.

“How much, monsieur?” I ask.

“Just take it, hermano.”

“I couldn’t.”

“Yes. It is for your child. Take it.”

I hold the bear, sensing in its erect posture and soft gaze a power to protect. I look up to thank the man, wondering how he knows about Rapha, but he’s gone.

At home, I give Rapha his gift. I let him turn it on so that he can hear the pot banging, a sweet, high pitched clang clang ... clangclangclang. I tell him to keep it safe because of its magic, then kiss him goodnight.

That evening, on Facebook, I see the first photo of myself at the nude manif. In the next couple of days, more photos follow, including one where my back is to the camera as I look over my shoulder. I’m holding up the toy polar bear with its flag-of-Québec cape. My other fist is raised as well. This is the photo that goes viral.

Wednesday, I arrive at school early and, uncharacteristically, so does Luc. He comes into my classroom with a copy of a popular glossy magazine in his hand. He slaps it onto my desk.

“Please tell me this isn’t you.”

I look at the cover photo—a close-up shot of me at the manif, fist in air, my more private parts artfully photo-shopped. It’s difficult to answer him, the power of his verbal request at odds with the truth.

“He’s wearing a mask,” I finally answer. “You can’t tell, for sure, who he is.”

Je n'en reviens pas. You can’t be that stupid.”

I hang my head thinking, ‘Yes I can.’ He hears my thoughts.

Écoute, you’re going to be called into the directrice’s office this afternoon. Don’t say anything. Let me handle it. D’accord?”

At the meeting, Arielle is there too. They sit on either side of me, protecting me as they answer concerns about propriety, judgment, reputation, regulations. My head is pounding from the force of the words in the room. I try to count how many hours of sleep I’ve had this week. If I strung those hours together, would it be equivalent to one full night’s rest?

 In the end, I’m told that I’ve gotten off lightly. I get to keep my job, without even a warning in my record. But I cannot come to work for ten days. The first day is without pay and those following are sick days for me to rest and “find my equilibrium”. I am not to give interviews.

Still, the news is full of information about me—that I am a teacher with a four-year-old son, that I am a refugee which, strictly speaking, is not even true. But this is the excuse used for why my school is not identified, nor my name used. The real reason is that Arielle and Luc have created a shield of partial invisibility.

Nevertheless, there are photos of me—far away, obscured, fully clothed. And quotes in support of the movement and against police violence, not attributed directly to me but said to be “summaries of my position” as communicated to “friends”. I learn that the fact that this message comes from a teacher who is also a political refugee and father has earned me, and the movement, “a great deal of new popular support.” Arielle tells me that this has earned me a lot of enemies too—principally, the government and the police—and insists that I lay low for a while.

I try to do as Arielle says. For the first forty-eight hours, I actually do not leave my bed. Arielle suggests I start seeing my therapist more frequently. Luc comes by with offers of bike rides, soccer games, a film. The problem is that I am not teaching, not with my students. When Raphaël is at the garderie, I feel useless. Finally, I tell Arielle that I must go out.

The next day, I participate in three separate demonstrations and a teach-in. Afterwards, I go to a public assemblée générale. The meeting is held in Parc Lafontaine where, just metres from us, a woman in black fishnet tights and stilettos is being taught to wield a whip by a huge bald man in leather. Every few minutes, I’m distracted by the sound of the whip cracking accompanied by a sharp burning pain on my back, but when I look around the assembly, no one else seems bothered. It occurs to me that I may be the only one who can perceive these two super villains. I leave and, biking very fast, attend four different “casserolazos” before heading to the night manif. When I return home, Arielle asks me what I’ve been up to. I tell her everything, which of course I must do. She insists that we both stay home the next day.

It’s a good day. We make love, nap, drink red wine. I feed a little off her life force—I cannot help myself—but I don’t think it hurts her because she’s so strong. In the evening, I put Raphaël to bed while she listens to the news. She’s turned the volume low but I can tell there’s been a report of some super villainy. I know this by the staccato rhythm of the words, the erratic, fractured images. As I enter the living room, Arielle turns off the television. I walk towards it as though to a cooling corpse.

“What happened?”

She hesitates. “Some arrests, police violence. There were ... injuries.”

I know that I’m to blame. I either caused it or ... or maybe if I had been there, I could have lured the evil towards me.

“I’m going to the demonstration tomorrow,” I tell Arielle.

“Gabriel—” I cut her off, steel myself against her power.

“Please,” I say, putting my fingers on her lips. “Please,” I whisper again.

She sighs. “Then I’m going too.”

On the way to the demonstration the next morning, we drop Rapha off at his friend’s on avenue Mont Royal. He’s disappointed that he can’t come, but we tell him to watch for us, that the march will pass right by this street.

After last night’s events, the mood at the manif is somber. The numbers of police and the way they are armed seem more a provocation than a way of keeping the peace. Nevertheless, the demonstrators remain positive. I march between Arielle and Luc in a bubble of safety. Something in the mood still doesn’t feel right, though. I’m glad that Rapha is safe at his friend’s home.

It’s after crossing St. Laurent that I realize that super villains are threatening the demonstration. I can see them, just off to my right, but whenever I turn my head, they’re gone. Arielle asks me what’s wrong, so I mention my nervousness for the students. Luc thinks I mean our students and says that Xavier and other kids from our school might be marching with the youth contingent behind us. He offers to try to find them for me.

Now there is only Arielle beside me. This is the moment when I must leave. I kiss her hard on the lips and make a run for it. I find them easily, instinctively, the evil calling out to me. I can taste the violence in the air as it draws me closer. Suddenly, I see Xavier and my panic mounts.

Everything happens at once. An arm is raised. People are running. A canister bursts in the air. Riot police appear from nowhere, weapons already in hand. Arielle calls me from a distance, Luc’s head and shoulders appear above the crowd. The mass of humanity is rumbling and reforming. Xavier’s eyes meet my own.

“Run!” I yell to him and his friends, and they do.

The next instant, the first matraque cuts across my hip, taking my legs out from under me. My head hits the pavement. Everything goes dark. I remember.

We were all standing under the night sky, a mass of students dancing in our superhero costumes. The evening was hot and full of motion, my arms tight around the shoulders of my two best friends. We sang and danced while we waited for the government to finally see that we were their children and that the things we fought for were good and right.

I was almost too happy, too excited. Almost, I was a little bored. My two friends agreed to leave with me and we found our way to my old home. Someone had placed a new lock on the door I used to enter. I was seeking my parents’ ghosts, hoping they were watching over us, yet I did not heed this obvious warning from the dead. I smashed the window, my parents’ murder a shard in my heart.

We were inside, kissing. I went from one set of lips to the other, my hand under the girl’s superhero skirt, the other rubbing the boy through his superhero tights. It was all very innocent—cuddles and caresses, seeking warmth in the ruins of my childhood home. I thought about returning to the demonstration, guilty about convincing my friends to follow me to this dark and sad place. This was the power I had—to make people love me, to make them see my love for them, to make them follow me, heedlessly.

And still, It might have been alright, if I hadn’t taken off my costume.

My eyes snap open. The cop’s face is snarling above me. “It’s you, the magazine star. Let them take your picture now,” he says, punctuating his words with a blow across the chest. I taste blood in the back of my throat.

They arrived with their guns, pulling me from my friends. The beating began at once, the force of the blows seeming to flow from an exterior power. I fought back at first, scanning the street outside for help. When my uncle stepped forward from the darkness with a look of anticipation about to be satisfied, I stopped fighting.

“Run!” I yelled to my friends. And they did.

I don’t want to fight back this time. But my body doesn’t listen. It’s trying to stand. The next blow takes me and I’m down again, the pain exploding behind my eyes. I look up, hoping they’ll finish me off quickly. It’s then that I see Rapha leaning over his friend’s balcony, the little bear clanging away in alarm, my son’s mouth a big “O”.

Pain. The stench of death and decay. In the prison, my only comfort was that my friends were not also taken. I balanced this against my agony. Snatches of sleep are brief, dreams of warm lips and smooth limbs. I began to imagine that I could see my friends flying over the prison in their costumes, planning to save me. I waited for rescue as minutes/hours/days became lifetimes endured. My uncle always came after the pain, speaking to me of loyalty to government and family and God, his hands on my body, gentle as a poisonous eel. I could no longer hear my own cries, could no longer fight. They’d stolen my life force and I was fading. I finally realized that my friends’ superhero powers must have been stolen as well. That this is why they never came for me.

Raphaël has climbed over the balcony railing. With horror, I realize that he’s seen me. I sense Arielle’s presence coming nearer, Luc’s as well. My death is coming too, but not soon enough. I will still be alive to see my child jump from the balcony.

“Rapha!” I cry as he becomes airborne, his cape flying out behind him. The police baton is raised again. I close my eyes and wait for it.

I’m flying through the air, holding on to Raphaël. We’re moving very fast above the streets of Montréal. Am I dead yet? I don’t want Rapha to be in a place of the dead. “No,” I moan and realize that, after all these years, I can hear my cries of pain again.

“Shh,” a familiar voice says. “Ça va aller. I’ve got you.”

Luc’s face is above mine, his arms carrying me swiftly through the streets, the crowd opening before him. If I could, I’d ask him to care for Raphaël in my place. My hand rests against Luc’s chest, his shirt wet and sticky with my blood. I try to touch his lips with my fingers so he can read my mind, but my fingers reach only his chin, slipping  down again on its rough wetness. My hand drops to my own mouth. I taste salt, feel Luc’s chest heave with his sobs, with the strain of carrying me and running. I press my hand against his heart and he runs faster.

In the ambulance, Arielle holds my hand. Her voice cradles me. Lâche pas, Gabriel. Lâche pas.” Hope hurts more than giving up, though, and I don’t think I can take any more pain. Then she puts my hand on her cheek and I feel her tears. I absorb the salt through the tips of my fingers and hold on a little longer.

Awareness slips in between longer periods of confusion. I see the friends from my student days beckoning me to dance with them. I see them pass the missing pieces of my costume to Arielle and Luc who hold fast with their powers of reason and strength, of goodness and loyalty. Above them all is my precious Rapha, flying and free. I remember now how he jumped from the balcony, landing squarely on the policeman’s back, how he passed his red felt square across the cop’s eyes, and how the man backed away from me in shock, as though only now seeing what he had done.

I wake and wake again. Luc or Arielle are always beside me holding tightly to my hand. When I ask for Rapha, I am told not to worry, that he's fine. I sleep and heal.

On a day when my head is clear, I open my eyes to Arielle sitting beside my hospital bed with Rapha on her lap. He clutches a newspaper, on the front page, a photo of his exploit, his red cape flying out behind him. The headlines reads:  Boy superhero leaps to the rescue. Negotiations resume, student leaders hopeful.

“What happened?” I ask.

“It’s a long story,” Arielle says. “What did you think you were doing?”

“My students were in danger. I saw Xavier, told him to run.”

“Well he ran and found Luc, which probably saved your life.”

“Papa,” Raphaël whispers. “Maman made me promise not to fly anymore until I am grown up. I said d’accord but only if you come back to life.”

“Well I have, so you must do as you have promised.”

“I also promised not to tell any more newspaper people about how I can fly. And about the magic forgetting dust.”

“Forgetting dust?” I ask.

“Yes. Like you told me. I used the red square to wipe it from the policeman’s eyes. And I said the magic words.”

“What words, Rapha?”

Je me souviens.”

END

Dedicated to student and teacher superheroes everywhere.

"Je me souviens" was originally published in The Future Fire in 2012.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

Thanks for listening, and I'll be back on the IDES OF MARCH with "Lamia Victoriana" by Tansy Rayner Roberts.

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Episode #22: “Into the Nth Dimension” by David D. Levine

February 20, 2016

Into the Nth Dimension

by David D. Levine

The fence around Dr. Diabolus's lair is twenty feet tall, electrified and topped with razor wire.  I'd expected no less.  From one of the many pouches at my belt I pull a pair of acorns and toss them at the base of the fence. 

I exert my special power.  Each acorn immediately sprouts, roots digging through asphalt as the leafy stem reaches skyward.  Wood fibers KRACKLE as the stems extend, lengthen, thicken, green skin changing to grayish bark in a moment.  Leaves SSHHH into existence; branches reach out to the neighbor tree, twining themselves into rungs. 

Before the twin oaks have reached their full height I spring into action, clambering up the living ladder as it grows, creeping along a limb even as it extends over the razor wire.  It's a dramatic, foolhardy move, but I can't delay -- Sprout is in peril!  The branch sags under my weight, lowering me to within ten feet of the ground, and I leap down with practiced ease. 

Full transcript after the cut:

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Episode 21: “Her Last Breath Before Waking” by A.C. Wise

February 2, 2016

Her Last Breath Before Waking
by A.C. Wise

She is a city haunted by a ghost.

When the architect dreams, her sinews are suspension bridges, her ribs vaulting arches, her bones steel I-beams, and her blood concrete. In her dreams, the city is pristine and perfect. She is perfect.

The architect has a lover who is afraid to sleep. At night, the lover lays her head against the architect’s chest. Instead of breath and pulse, she hears the rumble of high-speed trains.

Full transcript after the cut.

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