Go to content Go to navigation Go to search

Table of Contents

the Doors kicked Open – Sidney rests – maybe Blue – a Dispute over Loss –

Jo kicks open the doors and runs through them onto the porch down the stairs Ray after her. Becker catches the door, watches through it as they run down the street between the boles of the great concrete pillars holding the onramps above them.

From away behind the church another crash of metal. “Back door,” says Becker, and he lets the front door close.

In the basement they’re mostly sitting again. Open Mike’s pacing by the piano. Ysabel’s turned sideways in her chair, her blackened eye faced away off toward the rack piled high with folding chairs. Beside her the Soames her shoulders to Ysabel’s back, her spectacles in one hand, squeezes the bridge of her nose. “I should be out there!” cries Open Mike, pounding the quilted piano with a balled-up fist.

Twice Thomas stands and walks across the ragged arc of chairs and men and women, his cap on his head, hands cupped carefully before him. He drops heavily to one knee before Ysabel. “Lady,” he says. “I would never spurn so rich a gift, but I must do something to – ”

“It’s spoiled,” she snaps. “Gone dead. Wrung out. No better than the lint in your pocket, rabbit.”

He stands then, turns, and walks away, clapping the dust from his hands.

“He was wrong,” says the woman in the confetti-colored cap. She’s squatting on a chair back by the coffee urn, legs folded under her orange skirt, nibbling on a donut.

“Who was what now?” says Guthrie, worrying at a thumbnail with his teeth.

“When he said there were four. There’s only three from the track.”

Becker’s coming down the low flight of stairs. “They’re off,” he says. “Why isn’t he back inside yet?”

“He’s enjoying himself!” cries Open Mike, banging the piano again.

“Okay,” says Becker, “where’s the back door?”

Hands shoot up to point out the door behind the rack piled high with folding chairs. “Back there” says Templemass and “There’s some stairs back there” says a woman in white coveralls and “Up those stairs” says Rye Jenny. “I’ll show you!” says Open Mike.

“Brother Michael,” says the Soames. “I thought we were to leave this to the knights.”

“I must do something!” cries Open Mike, pounding his fist against his open palm.

“It’s what they’re for,” says the Soames.

“I’ll go with you,” says Ysabel standing, walking over to Becker. “It’s okay,” she turns to say to the Soames, her smile hampered by the welt on her cheek. “He’s my boss. And I promise I’ll stay inside the church.”

They’re all staring at Becker. “Um,” he says. “I manage a phone bank. She works there with Jo.”

“I’ve even been given a paycheck,” says Ysabel, and she takes Becker’s arm and walks with him toward the door behind the rack piled high with folding chairs, her denim skirts brushing the dusty floor.

In the stairwell Becker says, “So you’re a Princess.”

“Yes,” says Ysabel.

“And Jo’s your, uh, whatsit.”


“Because I keep forgetting, see.”

“That happens.”

“Not to Jo.”

“Perhaps I don’t let her forget,” says Ysabel.

“Don’t tell me you’re paying attention to Guthrie, too.”

“Some of you find it easier this way.”

Becker at the top of the stairs his hand on the doorknob turns to face her. “Am I gonna remember this at all? Or tomorrow am I gonna wake up, all this, it won’t even be a dream, like I shouldn’t’ve eaten those armadillo eggs I never had.”

“Open the door,” says Ysabel, and he does.

The alley outside runs along the back of the church, paved with gravel, lined with a straight trimmed wall of greenery. Beyond that another ringing crash of metal, grunts and labored breath, pounding feet, and thump and tumble. “Can’t see a thing,” says Becker.

“He’s to come back when he can,” says Ysabel. “He knows he’s just buying time.”

“But maybe he,” says Becker. “I’ll just go and. Signal him. You know? Let him know. I’ll stay out of sight except, I’ll wave or something,” and he steps out onto the gravel, heads down along the wall of greenery, bent low, looking for a gap.

“No,” says Ysabel. “Don’t. Stop.”

Becker bent double pushes between the shrubs. Beyond a parking lot lit up a pale and buzzing white, streetlights here at the corner of the church and there across the empty lot. A half-dozen white bicycles gears clacking circle as Pyrocles his suit jacket in tatters crouches low his greatsword in both hands angled before him swinging back the tip around whipping to catch Sidney a dark shape leaping knife before him gleaming he crumples around the sword-blow driven into the pavement rolling hands flopping knife clattering away.

“Sidney,” calls Pyrocles, his voice worn to a rasp. “Don’t tell me you want to rest.” Lurching over he plants his greatsword point-first chinking the pavement next to the dark huddle of Sidney’s cloak. “Sidney?” Leaning on the hilt like a crutch he pokes. The cloak collapses.

Pyrocles looks up sharply to see Becker’s face in the bushes. “Go!” he roars. “Back inside!” Tilting over alarmingly into a churning run. The keening that’s been rising resolves into another dark-cloaked figure white light gleaming from a silvery helmet one arm up and back a short broad sword mouth open in a wordless howl of rage. Becker pops back through the bushes falling backwards half-catching himself rolling over to scrabble toward the door as Pyrocles crashes through the bushes big feet crunching gravel slamming fists-first into the wall of the church pushing off spinning to scoop hands on Becker’s jeans the back of his plaid shirt hauling up and through the back door ajar as that short broad blade hacks through the greenery striking sparks from the ruddy grey stone. Becker in the stairwell tripping down three steps four and catching the handrail as Pyrocles crashes to the floor shoulders against the wall kicking the door shut bracing with his feet as a blow shivers it from the other side.

“Go on!” yells Pyrocles. “Take his dagger back to the Badb Catha. Tell her how you failed!” The door shudders. “You’ll not cross this threshold again! Go!”

“Hey,” says Becker, when the door is still. “You okay?”

Pyrocles on his back looks down at the tatters of his dark blue jacket his ripped white shirt the gashes hacked across his chest and upper arms oozing something thick and milky yellow. He begins to laugh. “I’ll heal, Becker,” he says around rough chuckles. “Glad he didn’t land one of those while you were standing there.”

“I,” says Becker, kneeling on the steps, bracing his hands on the landing by Pyrocles, “I’m going to wake up in the morning and I won’t remember anything that happened. Which I think,” and he leans forward, “is the only reason I can do this,” and he kisses Pyrocles on the mouth.

Pyrocles brushes Becker’s cheek with battered knuckles. “I hope you remember something,” he says, and he pulls Becker to him and they kiss again.

“Well?” says Jo, standing in the middle of a dark and silent street far above her the deck of the freeway raised up on concrete pillars made slender by their height, the rush of engines, rolling tires, lights seen passing back and forth that do not illuminate what’s so far below. Behind her tall grass rustles down to the river black and empty beyond. “We’re out of fucking bridge, Ray!” Ray in the middle of the cross street hunched over hands on his knees struggling for breath. “Where’s the fucking troll?”

“I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What’s it look like, huh? How big is it? Maybe it ducked out for a drink or something?”

Ray’s shaking his head, fishing his green bottle from the pocket of his leather jacket. “I don’t know,” he says, and he takes a swig.

“Have you ever even seen the goddamn thing?”

“It’s a bridge!” snaps Ray. “There’s supposed to be a troll!”

“I can’t believe I listened to you,” says Jo. “We’ve got to get back. Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Wait,” says Ray. “Wait a minute.”

“For what?”

“That?” Ray’s pointing his bottle up at the cross bar high above bracing two pillars. Perched there a dark shape, a bird, much too large to be a bird, smooth rounded shoulders with not a suggestion of feathers but great angled chevrons carved in the broad breast.

“A statue?” says Jo.

The statue turns its head silhouetting an eagle’s downturned profile. A blink and something that might be an eye glaring at them. Its wings open with a grate of stone on stone and flap once and settle slowly with a grinding rumble.

“That’s not a troll, Ray,” says Jo, subdued.

“No, but it sure as hell is something.”

“You wanna climb up there? See if it wants to help us out?”

Ray grins and shrugs and his eyes slide past her over his shoulder. “Shit,” he says, as the clacking sound gets louder and closer, the white bicycle slipping from streetlight to streetlight grey and black and white bicyclist hunched over handlebars lurching from side to side pumping the pedals for speed.

“Oh, hell,” says Jo.

Ray pulls one more time from his green bottle then tosses it clinking to the pavement. He flings out his arms, cracks his knuckles, takes in a great draft of air through his nose, and starts to run.

The bicyclist swerves at the last instant but Ray jinks and broadsides him and the bicycle upends pinwheeling over their sprawling bodies, the bicyclist’s helmeted head bouncing off the pavement, Ray’s feet kicking up in the air, the bicycle crashing to the ground. Jo heads toward them as Ray rolls over on his hands and knees letting out ragged whoops of what turns into laughter. “It worked!” he cries.

Jo crouches over the bicyclist hands hovering over his grey sweater. “Hey,” she says. “Hey.”

“I never tackled a bicycle before,” says Ray.

Jo touches the sweater jerking her fingers back then slowly touches it again. “He’s not too cold,” she says. The bicyclist’s head shifts a little, his eyes flicker open, milky in the pale streetlight.

“Who are you?” says Jo. “What are you doing out here?”

“John,” says the bicyclist. “John Milus. I’m not where I’m supposed to be.”

“Where’s that, John Milus?” says Jo.

“Jo?” says Ray.

“Ankeny and Sandy. Southeast. Coming downhill, making that turn – there’s flowers. There’s usually flowers. My sister, you know?” Those milky eyes squeeze shut, and when they reopen they’re a little more clear in the uncertain light. Maybe blue. “Will you take it back?”

“Hey, Jo?”

“The bike?” says Jo “Sure. Now – ”

But there’s no one there.

“Jo!” says Ray. Jo stands. “Where’d he go?” says Ray. Jo grabs the white bicycle, sets it upright. Wheels it back and forth. “Jo?” She kicks one leg over the white-taped saddle and finds the white pedals with her feet. She wheels it clack-clacking around in a tight circle, reflectors smudged with white paint, white vinyl seat, grubby white tape on the handlebars. “Jo!” yells Ray. “What the fuck!”

“I’m gonna go break the siege,” calls Jo over her shoulder, lurching from side to side as she starts to pump the pedals for speed.

“What will you do, girl?” says Vincent. “That’s the third lesson. You’re there. You forgot your Princess was in play, and here I am, between you. What will you do about it? Make your decision.”

“Okay,” says Jo, “I’ll – ”

“Don’t tell me!”

“Okay,” says Jo, “I won’t.”

“The fourth lesson, girl,” says Vincent. “Decide. Then do it. Monday through Friday, here on out, that’s supposed to give you the reflexes so you can put the point of that sword wherever you need it to be without thinking. It’s what every fencer learns, more or less. You want to fight, you gotta be stepping through these four lessons all the time, over and over, a cycle. Like a heartbeat. Where are you? What’s around you? What are you going to do? Then do it, and back again: now where are you? Now what’s around you? Now what are you gonna do? Huh?”

“Okay,” says Jo. She hasn’t moved. Her knees still bent, her left hand up and back, her right arm extended but not stiffly straight, her sword canted up a little to the side.

“So do it already,” says Vincent.

Jo drops her arm, lowers the sword. Bends down to lay it on the floor. Straightens, hands held out to either side. Looking not at him but Ysabel behind him, who’s shaking her head, smiling, looking away.

“Why’d you do that?” says Vincent. “Show your work.”

“I saw the way you looked at her,” says Jo. “You can’t even bring yourself to pretend to threaten her. Just stand in front of her like that and glare at me.”

“So that’s her safety. What about yours?”

“If she asked you to jump off the roof, you would,” says Jo. “What’d you think I was gonna do? Attack you?”

“I thought maybe you’d try to surprise me during my little speech. That’s why I went on so long.” He steps his right foot forward, shifting his body, his right arm now with the sword up and out before him, his prosthetic tucked in up by his chest. “You really think you can depend on a word from her?”

“Put up your sword, Mr. Erne,” says Ysabel. “We’ve all made our various points.”

He laughs. Lowers his sword. Slashes it back and forth, the tip brushing the floor. “All right,” he says. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Eleven o’clock.”

“Tomorrow!” says Jo.

“It’s Friday, isn’t it?” He walks across the room to the serried row of practice swords on the floor. “Monday through Friday. No exceptions.” He lays his sword back in its place. “And bring the money.”

Linesse kneels in the middle of the empty parking lot where neither of the streetlights really reaches, shapeless under her blue-black cloak. In one hand she holds a silver torc as highly polished as the one about her neck. “I’ve done what I can,” she says, to herself, to the torc in her hand. “No one’s arrived to rescue her. The ghosts remain on station, but I lost the bell when Sidney was destroyed. And there’s more than one Gallowglas here.” The parade of white bicycles wheels past on its way around the church. One of the bicycles breaks free, a girl’s bike, a white wicker basket with plastic flowers clamped to the front, the rider in a grey skirt and a white rain slicker, arcing toward Linesse, looping a wide circle about her, then stopping, as one by one the other bicycles stop. Riders hop off their seats to stand waiting their bicycles balanced between their legs, lean their bicycles to one side, one foot on pedal, one on pavement.

Something’s still clacking, getting louder, growing closer.

Linesse slowly climbs to her feet and turns to look off away toward the street where all the riders are looking. Where Jo’s braking her white bicycle to a stop at the entrance to the parking lot, kicking one foot over the saddle, walking the bicycle toward them. Almost as one the riders dismount sweeping and kicking and climbing one leg over their saddles.

“Get back on,” says Linesse. She walks over to the mass of ghosts the torc still in her hands. “Get back on! Keep moving! Keep watch! They’ll be here any minute!”

Jo’s stopped before the ghost in the white rain slicker. “Hello,” she says, and “Hello,” says the ghost.

“What’s your name?” says Jo.

“Cindy Wojtowicz,” says the ghost.

“Where do you need to go?”

“Lovejoy and Ninth. They’ll take it away, but somebody always puts some kind of bicycle back.”

“Okay,” says Jo, and the white girl’s bike with the white wicker basket falls over to the ground. She plants her bicycle on its kickstand, then picks up the fallen bike and plants it, too.

“Stop!” cries Linesse.

“You,” says Jo, pointing to a ghost in a white turtleneck and white carpenter’s pants, standing by a slender white fixie.

“Stop!” cries Linesse.

“Or what?” snaps Jo. “What’s your name?” she asks the ghost. Linesse cloak flapping mail chiming head down slams into Jo knocking her to the pavement rolling struggling to end up atop Jo kneeling on her belly one hand pinning Jo’s shoulder. Her other hand shaking her sword free of her cloak, short and broad, a battered round guard rattling loosely. “Brian Northrop,” says the ghost, waiting there by his bicycle.

Jo kicks her legs tries to jerk an arm free. “Stop this!” she yells. “Just go! Leave!” Linesse tosses her sword to one side, goes back into her cloak and pulls out a long knife with a single-edged blade. “You lost!” yells Jo and then she tries to tuck her chin as Linesse lays the blade alongside Jo’s throat. “Damn the Mor Muman,” she mutters, and tightens her grip on the hilt of the knife.

“Stop!” cries Jo.

“I’d do as she says.”

Linesse is quite still, looking down at the sword-blade on her shoulder. She lifts the knife from Jo’s throat and holds it up and out to her side, loosely now between thumb and forefinger. The sword taps her shoulder and lifts away, and she stands and turns to see the Duke behind her, in a deep red cardigan and a white shirt open at the throat, his longsword in one hand to his side. “I owed you,” he says. “Or I’d’ve just lopped off your head and been done with you. But we’re square, now, you and me. I know you don’t have any say in the matter anymore, but have a care we don’t cross paths again.”

And Linesse turns and walks away quite abruptly. Jo’s sitting up, coughing. The Duke extends a hand to help her to her feet. “Well?” he says. “No love for my last-minute rescue? You were expecting maybe the Chariot? I sent him down to the basement already, or he’d’ve been picking fights with the ghosts.”

“Wise,” says Jo, and then she turns to the ghost by the fixie. “Where do you need to go, Brian?” she says.

“Forty-seventh, just south of Stark,” he says. “There’s a tree, in the front strip between the sidewalk and the street? Just chain it up there.”

“The ghosts,” says the Duke, as she catches the falling fixie. “I’m impressed. Ones up front ain’t moving either. I got the Mason watching just in case, but you look like you’ve got it well in hand?”

“Yeah, well,” says Jo, looking for a kickstand. “I’m wondering if maybe I can borrow your pickup truck?”

Table of Contents

M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

I really love all the new facets of the “neighbor” characters that are being revealed. The Duke, Pyrocles, Ysabel. I have a ton of questions about Guthrie, and I’m still on the lookout for more genderfuckery.

  Textile Help