Chapter 7: AWAY
“I see,” Here said.
Away blinked and tried to clear the cobwebs that didn’t shake free. He lifted a hand to his chest. There was no hole, his heart was safely tucked between his ribs.
“Of course it is,” Away muttered to himself.
“Does that happen a lot?” Here asked.
Away wasn’t sure how long the dream had lasted. He sniffed the air, breakfast was still cooling on the counter. The coffee in his mug was still warm.
“It happens,” Away stood up. He picked up the small square of comic strips and slid it into his back pocket. “Enjoy the coffee,” he said.
“Wait,” Here said, “you can’t leave after something like that happens.”
“Why not?” Away asked.
“I don’t know,” Here waved his hand dismissively, “temporal shift, cataclysmic blah blah. You might fall over and I’ll be stuck with your corpse stinking up my coffee experience? Take your pick.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, I’m not going to corpse up the place,” Away walked towards the glass door. Here grabbed his bag, jacket and the carafe.
“Listen,” Here said, “you’ve seen something. I’ve seen something. We’ve all seen things but when you feel them too, that’s a different story. I know it, you know it.”
Away focused on the concrete under his boots as the vulture boy talked. “So why are you bothering me?” he asked.
“The question should be,” Here said, “what are you doing in my motel? What brings you here kitty?”
“Your motel?” Away growled and swiped his paw out, not to maim but to satisfactorily vent his annoyance. Here blocked his cuff with the coffee carafe.
“What am I doing here?” Away stopped at his door, number nine, and pulled out his key card, “well, my great-grandfather lied about his age to join the Army and the War of European Aggression or whatever you hicks call it these days. They had these maps of what they thought was in Germany and he would fly his little plane over and verify where things really were, you know, for bombs.”
“And what does that have to do with anything?” Here asked.
“When he came home he went to MIT and after he graduated he moved to Florida and made gas station for the oil company. Pipes and fuel tanks and shit. And while he was in Florida he met my Nana. She was part Camellia japonica and part rip-your-face-off-if-you-look-at-it-wrong. Want the rest of my lineage?” Away asked.
Here sniffed, “You’re fae enough for a piece of luggage to rip out your heart and give you a dead kitty for your trouble.”
“You saw it all?” the key froze over the lock.
“Am I the first to see what you see?” Here asked.
“Was it yours or mine? I can’t tell,” Away said.
“Any other fae around when you have one of your little fits?” Here asked.
“It wasn’t a fit,” Away snarled.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Here grinned.
“How do you get a yes out of that?” Away asked.
“You haven’t said no.” Mist burned off from the lake as the sun kept higher in the sky.
“Care to invite me in?” Here shook the coffee carafe.
“Are you a vampire now?” Away asked.
“I thought you liked polite,” Here snorted.
“You’re not going away, are you?” Away asked.
“No. We could go down by the lake if you like,” Here said.
“So I can kick your ass and drown you?” Away raised a paw.
“Not in the mood for fighting anymore. Fickle beast, me.” Here shrugged, smoothed the feathers down his shoulder.
“I thought you didn’t like beasts, now you’re calling yourself one, you sure are fickle,” Away hissed.
“I said I didn’t like feral or flea bitten beasts,” Here said, “pay attention.”
“Coffee’s still warm, I hope,” Away said.
Here shook the carafe again. “It better be. Follow me.”
The air by the lake was cold. Away followed Here down the spindly, dirt path that ran behind the ice machine.
“The lake was connected to a river once, I think, or a creek that got bigger after a flood and they decided to contain it. Before the motel was built.”
“You know a lot about this place,” Away said.
“I’ve been here for a while,” Here said.
“Who are you?” Away asked.
“A transient not unlike yourself,” he laughed, “my name is Here.”
Away looked down the path, “Where?”
Here thumped his chest, “Here. My name is H-E-R-E. What’s yours?”
“And you had a problem with my name?” Here asked, “what’s with you?”
“My head isn’t right,” Away said.
“So I can see. Lucky for you, neither is mine. So we’re both not right in the head and we’ve both seen our insides on the outside. Now, let’s find a nice, lovely spot where no one can hear us. I’ve got a story for you.”
“A story? It’s not how your great-grandparents met is it?”
“No. Something better.”
Away followed Here past a cluster of maples, their golden and red leaves gently swaying and spiraling down to the crackly Autumn ground. The bird’s footsteps were light and precise. He gulped down the smell of cold and nighttime that still clung to Here like spider silk. He tracked every muscle twitch through the leather jacket, the casual movements of his hands as he talked. The tourist family’s children were exploring the edge of the lake, where the mud and lotuses receded into the murk.
“Here’s the story,” Here said, “these two brothers go looking for a stone. The stone is magic. There are problems. But they still find the stone and they solve all the problems.”
“So you’re a glass-half-full kind of guy,” Away said.
“No, it’s the story,” Here said.
“Right,” Away said, “you’re only telling me a story where everything in the world is perfect and everything turns out wonderful in the end.”
“I didn’t say that,” Here said.
“So what did you mean by ‘they solve all the problems’?” Away asked.
“Just because shit gets solved doesn’t mean life is cookies and rainbows,” Here said.
“Then what does it mean?” Away asked.
“You’ll have to wait and see. I tried telling this story to that child down there smashing the butterflies,” Here pointed. Away looked down past the barbecue pit toward the small, hunched figure of a child. There were butterflies in the mud, sucking up the water and salt, dying as the child jumped up and down on softly waving wings.
“He had better things to do. But you’ll listen to me, won’t you,” Here said. A low growl tumbled from Away’s throat. The sun beat down on crushed yellow wings.
Here leaned against the Maple and slid down to the ground, motioned for Away to sit next to him, the coffee carafe between them. Away crouched down and settled back on his heels. His gold eyes swung from the human family with the giggling children back to Here’s sepulchral and pale face.
“Once upon a time there were two brothers. There are always two brothers. One was good and one was bad. There is always a good one and a bad one. My father named the good one Now and the bad one Later. He probably stole those names from someone else so I can’t take credit for them. I think he was trying to be nice to Now, but even though he was bad Later was my favorite. I would beg him to tell me this story over and over. Anyway, this isn’t really a story about the two brothers. It’s about a stone and a witch. The witch didn’t have a name in my father’s story but she wore a purple dress and she was very kind to Now when he needed help. My father didn’t give the stone a name either but it has one. Want to know it? Well, you’ll have to wait. Because Now and Later are dead and witches don’t wear purple dresses unless they really, really want to. And stones keep secrets just like you and me. You and I, excuse me.”
He took a long, satisfied gulp of coffee. “As I was saying, there are always two brothers. Let’s call ours Spider and Fly. And when one was good he was very, very good. When the other was bad he was the most obnoxious little fucker in the world. Now, the world that they lived in was not like ours…”