City of Roses

Drunk Dial
In Which Rhona Overshares

Winter 2011, New Orleans, Louisiana

Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do
— “Almost Lover,” A Fine Frenzy

Rhona was drunk. Really drunk. And Poppy was a police officer. Well, more than a police officer, a detective, a sheriff of the Vampire Court of New Orleans. She was a police officer walking a 17 year old to the police station, letting her stop every few blocks to vomit. She would have called Shelley or Lance but this was partially her fault. The kid was so out of place, a winged thing trying to burrow with demons. With Lance she could play tough but around Poppy she panicked a bit. Tried to be an adult and a daughter all at once.

“I want to call Simon,” she slurred.

“Who’s Simon, sweetie?” Poppy said, her Southern sugar barely concealing her exhaustion. The sun would be up soon.

“My…a…” She slumped. “He’s a guitarist. Was.”

“Was?”

“I hurt him.” She looked like she was about to scream. “And he hurt me. And I…it was just…it wasn’t him, Poppy. It wasn’t.”

Poppy leaned her up against a wall so she could look her in the eye. “This is a dangerous path, hon. Come back to me. Come on.” She reached for her but Rhona broke her hold like Ray Bolger would, all loose legs and charming flailing. “Dammit, Rhona!”

Rhona’s hair was in her face. Her back was against the brick. She didn’t move for what felt like an eternity. Then…

A voice Poppy had never heard before came from her. Pure and unearthly and melodic. Perhaps there was more than one voice. She couldn’t be sure.

“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby”

“Rhona can you hear me?” It was definitely two voices. A boy’s. Perhaps she was just imagining it. Yet all Poppy knew was that if this song continued, her heart was going to break. She reached for Rhona again but she spun away and walked, as if in a trance.

“Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”

It was hard to explain this feeling of past and present colliding like freight trains. Poppy was sure, quite sure, that she was still on Royal Street, but she was also some place cold and dark and wooden. A bedroom in a rundown house. Rhona was there with a teenage boy. He had a guitar and a mop of messy curls on his head. There’s a sadness to him, but he’s smiling with her. His hands are beautiful as he plays, hypnotizing.

“I’m not playing it, Rho. I’m sick of it. You just like it ‘caus you’re a bluebird.” She leans back against the bed frame, makes a puppy dog face.

“Please?”

“I’ll play you Stairway to Heaven.”

“Noooooo!” She slides off the bed and onto the floor, giggling.

“Or Yellow or something.”

She steps close. So close but not touching. She can’t know what she’s doing. “Please Simon.” She whispers. “Please.”

And Rhona’s voice again in the present, eerie, doubled:

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me

“You have to sing it, though. I’m not singing it.” The boy adjusts the guitar and begins to play.
She puts her hand on the guitar neck, so close they could kiss. “No, you.”

He groans. “Rhonaaa.”

She begins it to guide him but clams up as if she doesn’t know the words. He sighs and begins.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Poppy wasn’t used to Changelings and she especially wasn’t used to this. The rawness of the emotion, the realness of the waking dream. It was like a contact high of hurt and sorrow and longing. “Rhona please stop. Rhona!”

But he was kissing her. She couldn’t stop. Wouldn’t. But she had to. She had to or the world was going to end. Poppy was sure of it.

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I?

Simon moved the guitar and leaned into the kiss, lowering her onto the bed with a gentle push of his lips. She kissed him back like the world was new. (It was after all.) but then something about the boy swam in front of her. He was suddenly fire and light and heat, and it was blinding and terrifying and he was burning her. So she pushed back but he didn’t stop. Tried to scream but couldn’t. She reached into her pocket…

Poppy slammed Rhona against the wall, willing her to wake up. She just kept humming. She slammed her again and again and again. There was blood on the pavement. Rhona’s blood. Fragrant, like flowers in a cemetery. Poppy composed herself, struggling. “Rhona. Please.”
Rhona looked up at Poppy, with wet, wide eyes.

“If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?”

And they limped down the street again.

“Don’t ever do that again.” Poppy said.

“I don’t want to.” Rhona replied.

“I know, honey.”

Poppy lowered her onto the cot in her office. Rhona sniffled.

“I want to call my father.”

“Rhona, we don’t know where your dad is. We’ll figure out where he went, alright?”

She clutched at Poppy, eyes sharp. “Not my dad. My father. He used to… Every time I cried he’d come. Every time.” She set her lip like a toddler. “And he’d unmake whoever hurt me.”
It was as if a storm cloud passed over Poppy’s heart. “He’s gone, hon. They’re both gone.”

“They’re all gone.” Rhona closed her eyes, gloppy tears falling.

Poppy knew she should go to bed. Dawn was breaking and the world was waking up. But she pulled up a chair next to the cot, pulled a pile of incident reports over. She opened the first one on her lap, one handed, and settled in, leaving her Rhona’s hand in hers as her eyes began to close.

View
Why I Didn't Call
May 11th, 2014 Session Log

May 11, 2014 – The City of Roses

__Somethin’ filled up
my heart with nothin’,
someone told me not to cry.

But now that I’m older,
my heart’s colder,
and I can see that it’s a lie.

Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.__
— “Wake Up”, Arcade Fire

Voicemail for Shelley Pollack
Current Cell Tower: Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

/Secure node
Node secure.
/Voicemail inquiry
1. Play Message?
/y

“Hey Shell, Sry about being so AFK lately. (Did I put that right? I’ve been practicing.) I know I said I’d call Saturday night to rehash the party but there was this horrible…thing, Shelley. This thing, like us but not like us. That is..well, one of the Keepers. Well, probably not a Keeper. I don’t think he has a mind to keep anything. Too…hungry. So empty.

You know that urban legend about the couple making out in Lover’s Lane? The girl hears a noise and begs him to investigate. He laughs at her, knows somehow she wants him away. And just as the girl feels safe, when he’s headed towards the bushes, a hook handed man kills him, sometimes silently, sometimes after a single scream. The girl cries, her unease growing as the silence eats her up. And just as she’s sure she can’t handle it any more, the sound of breaking glass…

Anyway, that, THAT decided to visit Portland in the middle of one our most important parties. We rode out to the woods like warriors and so many ran screaming. I saw my drill instructor take a hook through the chest. And Molly. I’ve never seen Molly like that. Sweetness gone, just an animal below the knife. Feral and strong and so…not what I’m used to. I’m going to listen to her more.

And Jack…I’ve never seen Jack scared before, slight tension in his voice, not from tiredness but from staring into the darkness. The worse part was recognizing that voice. It’s how he talks to me sometimes.

So we’re running through the woods, sprinting. And it’s like he’s everywhere. He wounds Jack and I can’t stop running. I run off a cliff, land below, in that weird “Buster Keaton way” like you say. And I look up and the thing’s gone, then behind me, then gone again. We barely manage to get Jack down the cliff, get saved by Celine (yes THAT Celine. She can be useful at times.) “RUN.” she says, an order. “Just RUN!” We pile into Molly’s car. (The Doom Buggy. A yellow AMC Pacer with a kind of broken smile thanks to its headlights. I love that car. I want you to remember that bit because if you do not remember I love that car nothing that follows will seem wondrous or epic or whatever you like to say.)

I reach the car first so I’m driving and we’re trying to heal Jack in the backseat. (He was excessively juicy.) And we head down the mountain and I just…well, I can’t. But it’s not my car. I turn to Molly. “I have an idea.”

“What?” she says, checking on Jack.

“How much do you like this car?”

“Do it.” She says. I love it when I don’t have to explain.

We turn around on the mountain road, dust kicking up and head back towards the parking lot where Celine is doing her best to hold off the Hook. He has her on her back when the headlights hit him. Despite the glow, he’s a walking black abyss of coat and hat, with a glinting metal hook where his hand should be. “HEY!” I yell as I floor it, begging, hoping, trusting Celine to get out of the way.

The car hits him like a freight train and he’s pinned against the cliff face. Or I suppose I should say I was told he was pinned against the cliff face. My head was on the steering wheel and things were getting fuzzy.

I threw open the driver’s side door, knife in hand. I don’t like being scared. It makes me really angry. I marched forward, but as I steadied myself on the hood, he opened up a door to the Hedge and disappeared. “Sorry about the car, Molly.” I said, hitting the hood as I felt an overpowering urge to sit down.

Duchess Aurora and Celine took us home…well, to the field hospital. This creepy looking alien thing that was NOT AT ALL HELPFUL when we asked about Fetch gynecology. I guess it doesn’t come up much. Anyway, before that though we’re sitting in the backseat with bloody Jack while Summer Court royalty sits up front. And I’m sure Celine is going to throttle me for dishonoring her or disobeying her or nearly running her over with a car. But she just lets us go, and she grabs my arm as I leave. “I’m not interested in people who take orders without question. I know you don’t like me. I don’t care. Keep thinking and you’ll figure it out.”

So that was…ummm Saturday? Yes. So around 4 AM on Sunday I get to do what I actually wanted to do. I woke up the Master of Whispers to find out why the FUCK his obnoxious little spooks are stalking my…uh…Simon. Why they’re stalking Simon.

Miguel is not awake which is bullshit because we all just saved his ass and he was sleeping? BULLSHIT. So I bang on the door and he opens it and looks at me and closes it. And I bang on it again and he asks me what I want and I say a drink and he closes it again. And we do the whole dance again and I say I have a very important question that I need answered or I’m telling everyone what Web told us to do. He opens the door, as if he’s just finished a Hundred Years War. “Come downstairs.”

Long story short (I’m kind of bad at intimidating Winter Court people okay?) he says that Simon can “see” us. The Changelings. It’s got to be bullshit, right? It’s got to be bullshit. He’s schizophrenic. He probably used some details from what I told him and got lucky faking it. That’s gotta be it. Right?

He’s going to the University of Portland now. I got money from Jeremy to enroll and check on him. Jeremy’s been a real asshole lately. I know you don’t like him, Shell. I get it. I don’t like him, really. Not when he won’t smile at me or relax or he says he doesn’t want to talk to me or that I’m wasting his time. We just keep…doing stuff. We’re fighting and then…whoops. You know? You probably don’t. You’re smarter than me after all.

[silence]

ANYWAY, Jack meets up with his daughter…Storm’s daughter. She’s a DA, I think, some really impressive shit but the relationship is kind of strained because of Jack’s divorce and also she likes girls. I wonder if she’s pretty. I bet she is. Got sidetracked. Okay. Umm so Molly and Jack tried to get her to help them fight the Bratva and we got the location of a chopshop they use so it was time to find those stripper heels and that dress that got me kicked out of Utah. It was in a shady part of town is what I’m saying. Though I did just want to wear the dress too.

So Molly gets ready to do her sneaky thing and Jack puts on this Russian mob guy’s face and I’m standing out on the street with my ass hanging out (like I do), but for a reason this time Shell. For a reason. So Jack knocks on the door to the shop and this guy comes out and Jack says he wants a job. And this Bratva guy is immediately not happy. He’s like “where did you hear you could get a job?” and Jack says his brother told him he could find a job here, and all the while Molly’s breaking into the actual garage and looking around for clues. Also I am getting cold because it’s Portland and it’s totally going to rain. The guy takes him into the garage.

And of course Molly’s in the garage. She manages to hide in time as I yell in her ear. And just as I’m getting comfortable listening in, this guy shows up in his white Lincoln, cruising slowly.
He rolls down the window, waves a pile of twenties. “Get in,” he says, in this Boris and Natasha accent.

“You can’t afford me.” I say, trying my best Eastern European accent, somewhere between Bulgaria and Australia.

Jack starts telling this guy about his brother, her terrifying brother, “the Wolf”, Volk in Russian I guess. A little bit of Autumn magic and the guy is beginning to speak Jack’s language. He tells Jack to wait there while he makes a call and he goes back to the office. Jack and Molly look for something askew, any clue as to the Bratva’s ties to the Night Court.

The douchebag pushes the bills at me. “I can afford any whore on this street, c*nt. Now get in the car.”

“I have an appointment,” I say. And then before I can stop myself “with a better man than you.” The guy gets out of his car.

Molly finds these strange marks on the floor, tells me they’re definitely non-Mortal, and I see the light turn off in the garage’s office. My new friend is still coming at me but that’s not important.

“My boyfriend’s coming back!” I yell.

“You think I’m scared?” Douchebag replies. I save the effort of explaining to him that I don’t need a boyfriend to tell him to leave me the fuck alone because mob guy is telling Jack his boss is on his way to meet him, and the asshole tries to put his hands on me.

I grab him, yank his arm behind his back in a lock, slam him on the hood of his car. I lean in to him, enjoying the accent more than I should. "Here’s a tip, honey. Never touch a girl without asking. And never say the word “cunt” again and you won’t need prostitutes anymore."

I can hear Jack being interrogated. They needed more time. No one knows more than me that the longer you talk, the more holes appear. I run across the street and bang on the door to the office, hoping I’ll think of a good story before Jack’s mob guy appears.

He opens the door and he’s much bigger than I expect. His eyes are like these two black beetles. “Vat do you vant?” He says and I realize nothing has come.

“Are you Vladimir?” I ask. (He had told Jack his name, albeit reluctantly.)

“Why?” He says, murder in his eyes.

“Because…” I’ve still got nothing. He closes the door. Then…“MY SISTER IS PREGNANT YOU ASSHOLE.”

The door springs open. “Who is your sister?”

I take a stab in the dark. “Nadia.”

His face falls. “Nadia is pregnant?”

“Yes you bastard. And you’re going to do the right thing.”

Meanwhile, inside the garage, Molly follows the marks to a trapdoor, opens it. It’s earthy smelling and dark. Old. Children’s toys and human remains sit in the vines that line the walls. Our commas go put as they move underground.

Up top I’m still dancing as fast as I can when a huge man appears behind me. He’s scarred like a fighter and built like a bear. And while a bear in a striped suit might be funny to you, this guy is decidedly not. It’s the Butcher.

“What is the problem here Didi?”

“He knocked up my sister!” I attempt, my accent slipping. I know as can’t let him go to the garage but I don’t know what to do.

“Vladimir will take care of your sister, girl. Go home.”

“But—”

“Go home.” And he’s already walking into the garage.

“Wait!” I cry, following, but there’s Jack, halfway out of the trapdoor. Grekov’s gun is out in an instant. I reach for Grekov but he throws me aside. Jack drops and the door shuts on him.

Grekov’s shots hit the wall where he used to be. I breathe for the first time in minutes.

Now you know me, Shell. I don’t run. But I also survived on the road for two years by knowing when I needed to go get a bigger weapon. I ran, and Molly and Jack ran, escaping their strange pursues just as I escaped my terrifying mortal ones. So at some point we’re going to have to go into the Shanghai Tunnels. Yay.

So I’m going to head over to the restaurant/apartment, help with close, and crash, because this is ridiculous.

The dress is okay, if you wondered. Did you like the pic I sent of the vest? The briarwolf pelt drives him nuts I know but it attacked after all. I’m not a fur trapper. This isn’t Canada.

Oh and I wanted to tell you about this letter Lance wrote me. Your nagging must have gotten to him. I swear he’s so —"

Out of audio memory. Save message to free space?
/y
Location?
/Dummy/Home/Keepsakes/RhoRho
Save confirmed
/end session

[Meta narrative note: Simon was at the restaurant at the end of session.]

View
This Child Is Want
In Which Rhona Tackles the King of Spring

Portland, Oregon, Spring 2012

_You were a child
Crawling on your knees toward it
Making momma so proud
But your voice is too loud
We like to watch you laughing
You pick the insects off plants
No time to think of consequences

Control yourself
Take only what you need from it
A family of trees wanting to be haunted
Control yourself
Take only what you need from it
A family of trees wanting to be haunted_

-“Kids,” MGMT

Rhona nursed a Dark and Stormy with two straws and an umbrella, her duffel on the seat beside her, watching the spring rain slide down the huge glass windows. She was trying very hard not to cry. It’s not that the Fetch had upset her so much as…she felt like she was mourning something she was never going to have in the first place.

Could you imagine her with kids? Tiny whining blonde monsters. And if we all become our parents, well…she was doing the little ones a favor by abstaining.

“Of all the gin joints in all the world you had to walk into mine.” A man was leaning on the bar, both manicured and scruffy. Glasses and bow tie. He was staring at her like she was a puzzle to be solved.

Rhona sat up slightly, pulled her top up. “If that was a reference I’m afraid it’s lost on me. I sort of missed…most things.”

“How can you not know Casablanca — you know what, watch this.“ He whipped out a phone with a massive screen, tapped a few buttons. A black and white image appeared, a black man at a piano while a woman looked at a man.

You must remember this

A kiss is just a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by…

He was watching the screen, but she was watching him. Watching the sparks fly across his fingers. She normally hated circuits. (Too many flashbacks to Sophie yelling at her for handing her the wrong mother boat or whatever.) But the sparks felt…familiar somehow. The comfort of a thunderstorm on the prairie, coming from far off. Huddling up together with her family. Her family who hadn’t noticed she was gone. Aside from her father. Her poor father.

“It’s a little mainstream.” he babbled. “But the classics are the classics. And this gin joint is mine, so —”

“I’m very impressed.” she said, dryly, obviously not.

“But you see—” He took her arm very gently and pulled.

She drew her knife faster than he could see and pressed it against his chest, pulling him close, whispered in his ear. “Ask first.”

She suddenly found herself with her head against the bar, arm locked behind her.

A striped Beast was holding her, a lizard looking creature on the other side. “Majesty would you like me to take care of this for you?”

Bow Tie Man touched his temple. “No. Uhhh…no.” The knife was gone. Perhaps it had never been there in the first place? “We just need to…uh…”

“She attacked you, Highness.”

Rhona pushed against the Beast’s massive hands slightly to look up at him, processing as best she could through her rum haze. And yet he was doing the same thing, raggedly running to catch up to what had just happened. “You touched me without asking, highness.”

“Swear.” The Beast growled.

“I do, all the time.” She smirked. He applied more pressure. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just do so much better in handcuffs. You really should handcuff me.”

Bow Tie Man rolled his eyes. “Oh the Contracts of Separation. So useful.”

“Swear.” The Beast growled.

“I really don’t see how I’m in the wrong here.” Rhona said wryly. “You shouldn’t have touched me.”

“You attempted to harm the Verdant King,” the lizard spat.

“Oh that. That was a warning.”

“See your problem,” Bow Tie Man said, “is overreaction. I get that. I’m the king of that among other things. But this is a peaceful Freehold. Clarity is priceless. We have to keep each other safe. We want to keep you safe. You want to be safe. It’s an easy bargain.”

Rhona’s heart was rabbiting in her chest.

He leaned in next to her. “Hey.” His voice was soft and calming. “I’m ”/characters/ironicjeremy" class=“wiki-content-link”>Jeremy. What’s your name?"

“I’m not interested.”

He sighed. “Does it ever enter your mind for a moment that I am not hitting on you?”

“Oh you weren’t? I just assumed you were bad at it.” The Beast ground her cheek into the bar.

“You’re lucky you’re pretty.”

“And you’re lucky you have bodyguards." She said, twisting slightly. "But you’re running out of luck.”

“You can leave the Freehold now or swear.” Ironic Jeremy said.

“How about I just stay out of your way?” Rhona said. “I’m looking for information on my father and this is my only lead. Let me go and I’ll stay out of your hair.”

“If you wish to remain in the Freehold you must swear.”

Somehow Rhona flirted with her face squished into a PBR soaked counter. “I think you’ll find I’m usually the exception to the rule.”

Jeremy sighed. “Do it.”

The Beast picked her up like a rag doll. She kicked and screamed all the way but he was too strong and she was too drunk.

She remembered what happened next in flashes, like a nightmare. Throwing herself away from him with all her strength. His fist coming down.

“You come to us lost, unable to find your way past the rage and the thorns the Keepers left in your soul.”

Yelling. Fighting. Swiping. The welt growing on her face. The lizard so fast and alien, wrapping her up.

“You are our sister, but you are dangerous to yourself and your family.”

Screaming no at the top of her lungs but nothing coming out. The hit coming down again. Her teeth loosening, the crunch of her nose. The question being asked again, her answering with a right cross that did nothing to the Beast.

“Put away your knife, raise it not without the permission of the Antler Crown, lest you be banished from the Court of Roses.”

Her voice shaking as she mutters the words they want so much, swearing through bloody teeth.

“For a year and a day, we will keep you safe until you find your soul again.”

And then he was there again, Ironic Jeremy, pain in his face. “You can leave whenever you want, you know.” He handed her an Amaranthine. “For the pain.”

She pushed it away. “You’d like that wouldn’t you?” She said. She had never wanted to commit violence so much, yet the idea made her nauseous. It was a terrifying feeling. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bow Tie Man.” She said shakily, and she stumbled out the door.

Jeremy rarely slept well, but that night was worse. Not his usual functional insomnia, just weighty anxiety. He was giving her what she wanted. Why was this so hard?

The next day there was a dead hedgebeast on his doorstep with a note. “He fell on some thorns. – Rhona.”

After that came the tied up privateers the Summer Court had been looking for and the addresses of the children she had returned to their homes.

He summoned her to Court. “The point was to keep you safe.”

“I thought the point was to keep me from my knife. Are you saying I should allow those who threaten the Freehold to continue to do so, Majesty?” In his life before Arcadia, Jeremy had never had children for a reason. There was a contempt they perfected that honestly scared him a bit and it seemed the girl had never grown out of it. She bowed low. “May I go, your Majesty?” He nodded. As she turned away, he tried very hard not to watch her go.

She began going to the bars Jeremy owned and getting into fights. Never starting them per se, just escalating things with a kiss or a well placed word. The combatants would tussle and then she’d put them all down. He’d find her sitting at the bar with a Shirley Temple. “I didn’t want them to hurt your beautiful counters,” she said.

It was the privateer raid when everything came to a head. She was beginning her training with the Summer Court, and she had run into a slaver’s safe house without backup when she was supposed to be observing. She had nearly been cut to ribbons by gunfire. Even with healing, she was taken to the Summer infirmary.

Her room was a beautiful shade of yellow, and she glowed despite her wounds. She was pacing when Jeremy walked into the room, trying to get over a limp by walking on it. “What do you think you’re doing?” He yelled at her. “This has stopped being funny. This has stopped being cute. I will not have your death on my conscience!”

“Then lift the oath.” She said.

“That’s not an option.”

“Then I better get working on this leg.” She marched faster.

“If I wanted, I could have you paralyzed, unable to lift a finger if your Keeper returned.” He growled at her.

“DO IT!” She yelled, stopping short in front of him. “Try. If you or your monsters touch me again I will murder myself in front of you with my own knife, the knife I took from my Keeper after I killed him. He called himself Death. He called himself my father. And I murdered him. Do not think I hold your life or your power in high regard.”

Jeremy was acutely aware of how not good at this he was. He was exhausted and frustrated and yet exhilarated in his anger. He rarely was able to focus long enough to muster up a real rage. (It wasn’t his emotion after all.) It bothered him how obvious the answer was and how blind she was to it. It was so easy, so simple. He grabbed her, held her close.

She struggled at first, but it was out of surprise more than discomfort. She could hear his heart beating in his chest, fast and warm. She remembered the last time she had heard a man’s heart like this, her ear to his chest, his arms around her. Simon. There had been many encounters since that frozen day, but she could still hear his heartbeat in the pit of her stomach, frantic as he lost blood from a wound she hadn’t meant to inflict. How he had tried to calm her but the quick tattoo of his heart betrayed him.

She pushed Jeremy off. “How dare you—” she stuttered.

“It’s what you wanted.” Jeremy said, searching for a handle on the moment.

“It’s my choice whether or not to take it.”

“You’re right,” he said. Then, “That’s what you wanted to hear.” Not teasing, just factual. Painfully factual. She swung at him with all her strength. He pushed the blow aside.

He walked towards her and she backed up as he came. “You want to sing again without being frightened of what will happen when the song stops. You want Clara to come away from her altars and call and you want Simon to grow up and forget you. You want to sit in a field and watch things grow. You want your father to have spent his life searching for you. You desperately want your knife back because it’s the only thing that makes you feel safe from Him. And you want me to ask if I can kiss you.”

She scoffed, back against the wall. “No I don’t.” Laughed. "I don’t. You are an egomaniac sir. A true egomaniac if you think — " and she tackle kissed him.

“Ow.” He said matter-of-factly and kissed her back.

“I want you to know,” she said, unbuttoning his shirt. “This will only happen once.”

“Whatever you want,” he replied.

View
Me and My Shadow
In Which Rhona Kills her Double...Kind Of
Portland, Oregon, Spring 2012

_
Lover indeed they have covered with weeds
My body but my soul remains
So play louder, and faster, and stronger
And make this soil break
Make it break

These weeds these weeds tangled tangled
Oh these knots not so simple
Oh these trees hanging hanging
Oh their limbs casting
Shadows

- - ""The Graveyard Song, PigPen Theatre Company

Rhona Gilles slipped as she stepped into the main room of Union Station, lugging a duffel and looking every inch the tired, drowned rat she was. Usually graceful to the point of absurdity, that is how tired she was. Because the world hated her, it had been raining in Los Angeles when she had transfer from Greyhound bus to Coastal Starlight. Used to having Lance carry the heavy things, she had barely stumbled to her seat after the downpour and slept the sleep of coma patients, nearly stabbing the conductor on instinct when he woke her to ask for a ticket.

She scanned the room for a pay phone and ended up having to ask a tired looking man with a corks in his earlobes to point them out, hidden from the world in a corner of the cavelike room that most resembled the place a bear would leave its waste.

She left Shelley a self pitying voicemail. “Hi Shel, it’s your favorite fairy princess. Going to my doom to meet my double. I could be dead when you get this. If I don’t call in 18 hours tell Lance to murder / eat the entire city of Portland.” She hung up heavily, looked at the newspaper clipping Shelley had printed out for her.

“REMEMBERING THE DUST BOWL” it read in the Portland Tribune Online. “Local Rhona Huang remembers the Okie Legacy.” A picture accompanied the interview, a tiny woman with white, whispy hair and blue eyes. Her skin was a delta of wrinkles, nearly translucent with age.

“So there’s another you.” Shelley had said when Rhona told her how the whole thing works.

“She’s not another me. She’s a replacement me. A mockup of me. Me in quotes.”

Shelley sucked on a blood bag and looked horrified.

“I think you should kill it.” Lance said, crossing his arms.

“After finding out what it knows.” Poppy added absent mindedly. She was poring over crime reports.

“Point is I can’t do anything,” Rhona said. “I have no idea where it is. It, or my parents, or my nine siblings.”

“Nine?” Shelley said, pulling in air. “Wow.” She touched her stomach. “Ow. How did your mother survive?”

“Manners.” Poppy said, not looking up.

Eight months and many torpored cultish vampires later, Shelley nearly tripped as she ran up to Rhona. “I found her, Rho. I found her.”

Which brought her here, with borrowed money in her pockets and a bag full of weapons. (Ground travel was fun because no one asked you what you planned on using that machete for.) She examined the handwritten address Shelley had given her: “Rose Gardens.” It sounded nice. A growl nearly escaped her lips. She had been spending up way too much time around Lance.

Rose Gardens was a retirement home. Swanky and well lit. The staff still smiled and the intercoms played big band music through tinny speakers as dinner was served.

“Rhona Huang please.” Rhona said to the girl at the desk. She looked at her bag, adjusted it on her shoulder. “I came from a ways.”

The girl smiled. Pretty, gawky. In a different mood, Rhona would have been interested. “Oh, that’s sweet. The rest of the family is already here. You’ll have to sign in.” She pushed the clipboard towards Rhona.

A cascade of names: Jeremy Huang, Noah Huang, Dora Huang, Ruth Huang, Max Huang, Liam Huang, May Huang. All so unimaginative.

“We all love Rhona. Such a cut up, that one.” the girl said, taking the clipboard back. “Straight down two junctions, then left, two more junctions, make a right and you’re there. Follow the yellow line back if you’re lost.”

“Thanks.” Rhona said hollowly.

She walked down the florescent lit path, like Theseus in the maze. Except the minotaur had her face and a gaggle of irritatingly adorable children. She rehearsed the cool lines she had written for this moment in her head. “Tell Dad I say hi.” “I’ve always been given to self loathing.” “Die, me!” (What? They couldn’t all be winners.)

She turned left, noticed the wallpaper had changed to an ugly pink, like an inflamed organ. Perhaps the fetch would already be dead when she got there. If she had to stare at this wallpaper all day, she would certainly kill herself, and the fetch was her so……well there it was.

Two more junctions she went, humming to herself, hand on her knife concealed in her bag. The fluorescents made her wilt a bit. She wasn’t used to much light in the first place. It’s why she liked the vampires’ places in New Orleans so much.

A child ran by her, red hair and smiling eyes. She grabbed the kid’s head effortlessly, spun him around, got down with his level.

“What’s your name kid?”

“Noah.”

“Noah what?”

“Noah Huang.”

“Where’s your grandma, Noah Huang?”

“She’s dead.”

“Well that’s convenient Noah Huang.” She realized what she sounded like, added, still nonchalant, “This must be recent for you. I’m sorry.”

“No she died was I was this many.” He held up a chubby hand in a V.

“So who do you have in this hospital, Noah Huang?”

“Mee-Ma is here. She sleeps a lot.”

“Is she sleeping now?”

“Yup. I’m getting a brownie.”

Rhona let him go. “Proceed, tiny person.”

But just as he was about to go, a dark haired young man swept him up into his arms, tickling him so he squealed. “Were you bothering the pretty lady?”

“He’s a very unclear little boy.” Rhona said.

“Unclear? Unclear?” He blew raspberries on Noah’s stomach and settled him on his hip. “Whatcha need, cutie?” And he looked at her in a way that she was sure helped him a lot at the bars.

“Do you always hit on women in retirement homes while holding your children?”

He looked at Noah as if he had appeared from thin air. “This one? Oh, this one isn’t mine. He’s my sister’s. Right?”

The boy nodded dutifully.

“Blink if you’re under duress.” Rhona said, eyes narrowed.

“What’s duress?” Noah said, wiggling.

“I hope you never know, kid.” The man said. “No seriously, I’m too young for kids. I’m a freshman at the U.” He held out his hand to shake. “Will.”

Rhona took his hand and smiled at him. “That’s my father’s name.”

“It’s a family name from my maternal grandfather. Strong name. Only handsome men are named William.”

Oh honey, Rhona thought. If you only knew. “I should go,” she said, adjusting her bag.

“Take my card, okay?” He handed it to her, pressed it into her palm. “You’re good with kids. My sis might need a babysitter.”

“Sounds like you need one.” Rhona said, and walked on, trying not to think about her nephew looking at her ass. Her grip tightened on her concealed knife.

Down the hallway she went, by the pink vomit walls and past a purgatory like large room where twenty women knitted in silence. And then there she was: “432: R. Gilles – Huang.”

The lights were off and Rhona felt safe. There was a form in the bed, small, hunched, covered in a light blue blanket. Her long straight white hair lay behind her, earthy and beautiful.

Rhona tried to think of the lines she had practiced on the train, the lines she had written when Rumi explained how it all worked. Nothing came.

The old woman’s skin seemed to glow it was so white. Rhona couldn’t fathom how easily one ages into one’s mother. It was definitely Mrs. Gilles — the brows, the wrinkles, the soft worry lines as she slept.

She lifted the knife. Her father’s knife. Her safety and travel companion. The blood never stayed on it, but the heat always remained.

It will be easy, she thought. Just down and across. It will feel good once it’s over. I will kill the part of myself I do not know and therefore eliminate the mystery. I will feel content and whole and complete.

And yet looking at her now, looking at her family from her horny nephew to her smiling grandson, all Rhona felt was empty. Like nothing could fill her up. The emptiness she saw in Lance when he was quiet, the hurt in Shelley’s eyes whenever she said “Good morning” to mean “Goodnight.”

And for the first time, Rhona didn’t feel like murdering anybody. Not even the usual vague irritations we all contemplate: punching the telemarketer, watching a bad manager die of anaphylactic shock, tripping that guy who pushed you on the subway platform. Rhona looked at her fetch and felt nothing but regret.

Usually these moments resulted in a witch or an artsy boy having a very good night, but Rhona was sure, very sure, that she wasn’t going to be good company.

Just as she had turned to go Rhona…errr Other Rhona woke up.

“Ruth? Your hair looks beautiful. All golden in the light.” Her voice was small and soft, but it was dusty. It sounded like home. The drawled vowels and swallowed Ts.

“No, m’am. I’m in the wrong room. I’m sorry.”

Other Rhona clutched Rhona’s hand. “It’s alright Ruthie. I want my big sister here.”

“I’m not —” Rhona stopped herself. “Rhona… can I ask you something?”

“ ‘Course, Ruthie.”

“Where’d you get such a beautiful family?”

“Just lucky I guess. I borrowed them from a widower I loved very much. They’ve done well. Scattered to the winds we were, but they, Daniel’s children, my children, they always come home. They make a home for me wherever they are. Noah’s in the gifted program. And William’s going to design videos or games or something like that.”

Rhona swallowed. “Do you ever feel like they aren’t yours?”

Other Rhona smiled and laughed softly to herself, the way Rhona laughed when someone touched the small of her back. “Children don’t belong to us. They’re borrowed from the stars.”

“Did Mother ever feel like that?”

“Ma? Ma’s feet were on the ground Ruthie. She never liked those who could fly.”

“And Da?” Rhona said, heart in her throat. “Do you remember him loving you?”

“Da didn’t trust me after the move. Never knew why. You know all this, Ruthie. You were there.”

“I was.” Rhona said. “Wasn’t I?”

And the shadows grew. And there was a knock. And she was gone.

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The Promise by the Headstone
In which Jack tries to fill Storm's shoes

Riverview Cemetery, Portland, OR
March 1st, 2012

A breeze passed through her hair as she walked along the path, gently playing with her brown locks. Her heels faintly clicked along the wet pavement, one foot in front of the other. Her coat was pulled tight around her body, as her gloved hands held onto the bouquet of white lilies.

Samantha always loved those flowers.

Jack watched her from a distance, hiding a borrowed face under his grey fedora, blue eyes squinting in the light. Even though the sky was overcast and grey, it was still too bright for him. He always preferred the night.

The woman walked down the path, then turned right at the third plot. Three rows up, five headstones in. There she was.

Jack’s face shifted, rippling like mercury. He took on a face full of wrinkles, dark hair streaked with silver, and grey eyes that had seen too much. Richard Storm extinguished the cigarette under his foot and walked down the path. Third plot, third row, fifth headstone.

Sophie was already kneeling, clearing away some moss that had tried to stake claim to the gravestone.

“Samantha Gwenevere Taylor
1956-2007
Beloved mother.”

“Hey mom,” said Sophie, placing the lilies in a small vase. Jack hanged back for moment, letting her speak. “I brought you these. Picked them up this morning down on the corner. Tina held them just for you, you know, just like every year. Lucy tried to get me to go to that new place on 7th. They have a lot of amazing arrangements. But Tina has been with us since I was six. Still have that little gardening kit you got from her.” Sophie laughed. “Lucy’s been helping me grow some herbs outside our window. Well, she’s been doing the growing. I just end up spilling a bunch of dirt over the edge and attracting a bunch of weeds. Never had your green thumb.”

Jack walked up behind her, his shoes matting the damp grass underneath. Sophie stood up and wiped her eyes. “Got one?”

Jack raised an eyebrow. “You sure?”

“Once a year isn’t going to kill me, dad.”

“What makes you think I’m holding?”

Sophie laughed again, rolling her eyes. “What? And ruin the whole image you got for yourself? Besides, you just had one. I still smell it.”

Jack smirked and took out a pack of cigarettes, removing two and passing one. As Jack was lighting his, Sophie spoke again to the grave.

“Oh don’t give me that, mom,” she said. “I just said that once a year won’t kill me.”

“Lucy might, though,” said Jack, taking a drag. “She still carries around a can of freshener whenever I show up.”

“What Lucy doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.”

“How is she?”

“FIne,” said Sophie, taking another drag. “Still worrying though. Thinks every Russian she sees is looking to kidnap her, hold her for ransom, so I’ll back of the Grekov case.”

“Well they do have a habit of making people they don’t like disappear.”

“Yeah, I know. Most people got told fairy tales when they were kids. I got stories about how Mikhael Grekov’s father used to twist his enemies’ heads off with a pipe wrench. Oh, and how my dad knocked him out with that same wrench before bringing him in.”

“Made for some interesting parent-teacher conferences. Also made the boys scared of me.”

“Not that that ever was something I needed.”

“True.”

They stood there for a while, listening to the river and the breeze.

“She’s right though,” said Jack. “Grekov probably has a few people in Salem feeding him info. He’ll know everything you and your team will try to pin him for. He’ll make excuses for most of it, pay off the right people.”

“Not this time,” said Sophie. “I’m going to see that bastard rotting in a cell until his brain turns into mush.”

“Then you know he’ll be dangerous. Only a matter of time before he tries to do something drastic. Or until he finds out who you’re related to.” Jack turned to her. “I don’t want to see you hurt because of what I did to his old man.”

Sophie took another drag. “If he does anything,” she said, “It’ll be because of what I am going to do to him.”

“I’m just worried-”

“Oh now you worry,” she scoffed. “Not when I was coming out or when mom was drinking-”

“Sophie, I worry because I’m your father. It’s my job.”

“And your job always comes first.”

Rain started to fall, making everything around the pair glisten. Sophie reached into her bag and pulled out a small umbrella while Jack turned his collar up.

The wind had died down.

Sophie took a last drag and put her cigarette out under her shoe.

“I was a shit father,” said Jack. Sophie looked up at him. He had knelt down at the gravestone, reached into his coat and took out a single red rose, laying it gently at the base of the grave. “And a worse husband. I got so tied up in work, trying to do the right thing, that I never had enough time to take care of what was really important to me.” Jack lowered his head, remembering what Storm wrote in his journals. “No I did have the time. I was just too scared and too stupid to do anything.”

He stood up, ignoring the chill in the air and the dampness on his pants. “It’s too late to make it all up to her,” he said, before looking into Sophie’s eyes. "And I won’t try asking for forgiveness. I don’t deserve it.

“All I can do is say this: I know I wasn’t always there when you needed me. And I’ll take that to my grave. But I’ll do my best for you now. It may not be much, but I promise on what’s left of my name that I’ll do right by you. You need anything, even just an ear to listen, I’ll be there. And if Grekov or his apes try anything, well…” Jack gave her a sad smile. “I’ll show them that his old dog still has his teeth.”

Sophie mirrored his smile and held out her hand. Jack offered his arm and the two leaned into each other. The rain fell in the field, gently pattering on the black umbrella, sending tiny waterfalls around them.

“I’ll hold you to that, Detective Storm,” said Sophie.

“I keep my promises, Ms. Taylor,” said Jack. “I’m a professional.”

Sophie smiled, taking comfort in the warm feeling that passed between them. She knew that promise was one that her father had made in earnest.

Sophie took one last look at her mother’s gravestone. “Bye, mom,” she said. “We’ll see you next year.”

When they reached the top of the hill, the rain stopped.

View
A Hundred Years From Today
In Which Rhona Accidentally Jumps Out a Window

Sulphur, Oklahoma Early Winter 2010

Rhona liked Simon Lyman. She liked his curly hair and sad eyes and long frame with just a bit too much weight on it. Most of all she liked his voice. Calm, soft, devoid of the musical cacophony that filled her nightmares. She tried to explain it to him but the words failed her. “You’re like a pond.” she said. “Still. I could walk on you.”

She liked Cathy too, though she didn’t like the clothes she bought for her. She hated pants. Hated them. Cathy reminded her it was cold on the plains in January and she could lose her toes waiting for the bus.

The bus. Rhona hated the bus. And school. But mostly the bus. The roaring metal creature, like the tractor next door from her childhood. Loud and imposing, vibrating with threat. Inside wasn’t much better. She sat with Simon and the kids tortured him, asked her about cherries and fingers. A boy put gum in Simon’s hair and she broke his nose. Simon patted her hand and told her it was alright as she worked the sweetness out with her fingers. “Don’t blame me,” she sang in a soft sing-song, like a child who didn’t know what the words meant. “I can’t help it / If that doggone moon above / Makes me want / Someone like you to love.” and the kids sniggered but all Simon felt was safety.

His favorite band at the time was Coldplay. He gave Rhona one of his old MP3 players, half Coldplay half Cole Porter. She couldn’t get enough, though she could only really understand the play button. She would run up to Simon in the halls, beg him to switch the album, and then disappear again, bobbing to the music, blocking out the frustrated teachers.

Cathy played her Nat King Cole records and Rhona would close her eyes, swaying to the music. The doctors said the singing was a form of self soothing. And there was lots of self soothing to do. She had to learn how to brush her teeth and work the microwave. Cathy’s mother had had Alzheimer’s before she passed, so she was patient with the girl. But she did find it peculiar.

After a particularly troublesome night, when Simon had retired to his room to talk to himself and play the guitar and Rhona had burst into tears for the fourth time while trying to do remedial math homework, Cathy was getting a cup of tea when Rhona began to sing again, soft, unearthly, with a voice that wasn’t her own:

Life is such a great adventure
Learn to live it as you go
No one in the world can censure
What we do here below

Cathy wasn’t sure why she felt so cold or why she was frightened by a slight sixteen year old girl. She had faced down her own son holding a kitchen knife when they were working on his meds. But there was an unearthliness to that girl that made her…uncomfortable. She was used to feeling like she had an alien in her home but Rhona was frustrating. Overly affectionate one minute than sulky the next. At times it felt like dealing with a feral child. Or a cat. Cathy hated cats.

She talked to a specialist who theorized the delusions weren’t schizophrenia but the result of a developmental delay. It was a breath of fresh air. The last piece of the puzzle. So she explained to Simon that Rhona was going to see a new doctor who knew what she was, knew that she wasn’t like him. That maybe they could find the people who might be looking for Rhona. Wouldn’t she like that? Knowing where her father was? He must be looking for her….


The hospital was cold. Windows fogged and frost made fractals on the grass below. Rhona’s head hurt. The only heat was at her temples, a dull pain that slowed her senses. She clutched her music player, pressed play. The screen was blank. Simon would have said no charge.

She threw the tiny green rectangle against the wall and immediately regretted it, began to cry again, putting it in her pajama pocket. It didn’t make sense. All that red. And he didn’t heal. No more guitar or hot cocoa or video games. She touched the peeling paint on the barred window, murmured to herself.

Don’t save your kisses, just pass them around
You’ll find my reason is logic’lly sound
Who’s going to know that you passed them around
A hundred years from today!

He used to tell her to sing when she was tired or hurt or scared. “Sing, my little beauty, to make the earth cry.” It was a way to distract them both, Him from His frustration and her from…well she couldn’t remember but it must have been bad. She pulled at the paint and a chip came off, pale and heavy.

Why crave a penthouse that’s fit for a queen
You’re nearer Heaven on Mother Earth’s green

She wanted her knife. She wanted its coldness in her hands. The steadiness of chemistry. She hadn’t meant to hurt Simon. She never could. She wouldn’t. He just…he didn’t understand how things changed so quickly here, how ugly he could look in the moonlight, that it definitely wasn’t him. Couldn’t have been him. He was so fragile. So alone. She had broken him.

If you had millions what would they all mean
A hundred years from today

And after all of that, he had held her. He’d laughed. “If you wanted a turn to play the guitar you should have asked.” he’d said, smiling in a way that bore a hole into her stomach. “Okay now we’re going to do this like the cowboy movies. Get me a bandana pard’ner.” And she laughed and cried and tied it on his wrist, applying all the pressure that she could. “Hey.” he said looking up at her, face pale, brushing her hair out of her face. “It’s okay. You should’ve seen me off my meds.”

So laugh and sing, make love the thing
Be happy while you may
There’s always one, beneath the sun
Who’s bound to make you feel that way

She touched the glass through the bars, cool on her fingers. For the first time in her life, all she wanted was the cold. And then, as if she willed it, she was on the other side of the window. Her voice broke as her hands barely caught the window frame, bare feet on weather beaten white paint. This must be a dream. Or a vision brought on by psychotropics.

The moon is shining, and that’s a good sign
Cling to me closer and say you’ll be mine

Her breath was ragged, suddenly painfully aware of the ground below and the moon above. “If only I could fly.” she thought. “If onlys are for birds and Jinn” she could hear Him say, as if He was right next to her. She set her teeth.
“If only I wasn’t crazy. If only I hadn’t hurt my only friend. If only I knew where my father was and my sisters and my brothers and even Aunt Irma with her big hands and wet mouth. If only Simon could still play the guitar. If only fires still burned in the dark of Tod. If only my beauty meant anything to the earth at all.”

Remember, darling, we won’t see it shine
A hundred years from today

And she let go. Cold air whistled past her ears. She held her arms out like a diver, welcoming oblivion and escape.

A hundred years from today….

Intake of breath. Exhale. Ribs broken. Arm numb. But.

Alive?

With serious effort, Rhona rolled over onto her back, wincing. She looked up at her launch point far above. The window was closed. She had not crossed universes, or the afterlife looked a lot like its predecessor.

She staggered upright, grunting in pain. Her skin made a wet squelch as she pulled herself off the pavement. She looked around. She was on the sidewalk outside of the hospital, the soft glow of a streetlight threatening her shadow. The parking lot was empty and Route 177 glittered in the distance.

She felt her torso. Some minor lacerations, a rib out of line, and possible kidney damage. Or indigestion. She patted her clothes. The MP3 player was intact. And so was her knife, manifested from nowhere. She looked up one more time to the window. That was at least 19 stories.

“Well that’s interesting.” she said. A thought. “If only I had a car.” No keys dropped from the sky. “Well it was worth a try.” She marched towards the 177.

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Welcome to your campaign!
A blog for your campaign

Wondering how to get started? Here are a few tips:

1. Invite your players

Invite them with either their email address or their Obsidian Portal username.

2. Edit your home page

Make a few changes to the home page and give people an idea of what your campaign is about. That will let people know you’re serious and not just playing with the system.

3. Choose a theme

If you want to set a specific mood for your campaign, we have several backgrounds to choose from. Accentuate it by creating a top banner image.

4. Create some NPCs

Characters form the core of every campaign, so take a few minutes to list out the major NPCs in your campaign.

A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.

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