Petals of the Rose
A Way Out
Pollock put an end to the sweet bliss of rejoining their lost cohort by shaking everyone off of her and sniffling. Watercolor was running down her cheeks, and greenish paint clung to her nose. Shade supposed that it was her equivalent of tears and snot. Gross. And interesting. “Sorry, everyone.”
Rajah peered around. “So, which way is out?”
“That’s what we have to figure out now.”
From here, the human world seemed to be just on the edge of perception. Car horns echoed from the distance, bits of fence and wall could be glimpsed in among the foliage walls of the hedge, and tiny hints existed that one might find the earth just around the corner. If only it were actually that simple.
Pollock had tried before to simply force her way through, and the result was unpleasant. Thorns had driven themselves into her hands, appearing by magic around her. Worse, the hole she opened no longer showed her the human world, but a darker place in the hedge, with a pervasive sense of foreboding. She had retreated from it and never tried that again. They still passed signs of human habitation; here an empty Cheetos package littering the hedge, there a lace doily being slowly devoured by the foliage.
Instead of dwelling on such things, she looked out over the landscape and led the group through a convoluted path. They passed brick walls with the tags and graffiti of local gangs and hoodlums, walked under bowers of overgrowth and impossible to reach fruits, and looked out over achingly beautiful vistas at a blazing sunset that no mortal eyes could conceive of.
Polly kept up a casual chatter the entire time, trying to catch Rajah up on some of the things they had previously discussed with Porsche. She was concerned about the possibility of being separated yet again, and doing her best to keep the idea off of her own mind and off of everyone else’s minds by talking over the top of it.
About the same time her mouth ran dry and her mind ran empty of things to talk about, they came upon a rusted out truck crashed into the wall of the hedge. Old skid marks gouged through some of the patches of plants that grew in this small clearing. The windows were broken out and a sense of age and long disuse hung over the wreck. Vines were lacing their way through the engine block, keeping the truck forever trapped in place.
Pollock’s curiosity was aroused. There was no sign of how the vehicle had driven into this place. Shade was picking his way around with his hands behind his back, looking like nothing so much as a gray chicken with his beak of a nose dipping and tilting as he inspected the truck.
Porsche expressed some regret that they couldn’t drive out with it. “It’d be fine. I’ve had my license for a year. All we’d have to do is cut it free. I’m sure it still runs.” Her tone spoke of sarcasm and amusement.
Rajah’s cold glare said no more clearly than any words could have. Pollock supposed he’d been exposed to the horrors of the hedge longer than anyone should ever bear and wasn’t in the mood for levity. And so they moved on. The enigma wasn’t worth the danger to truly unravel its secrets, and they had a friend who deserved freedom from this place.
Shade popped his head out of a door and looked to either side. He saw dark, rich paneling and mood lighting, and the sounds of country music assaulted his ears. Looking back, he said “It’s a restroom. In a country bar.”
They’d come upon a doorway, finally, after hours of searching. From an oblique angle, one could see that it was simply a door frame and door propped up at an angle against the wall. But it was a portal and more than they’d needed. A few simple knocks in sequence had enticed the door to open with a burst of magic and swirls of starlight. Now as Shade pushed the door open they were looking into a men’s restroom. Thankfully, no one was in view.
Stepping through, they saw all the familiar fixtures of a lavatory. When Rajah saw the urinal, he waved his hand at everyone. “I’ll be right with you.” Pollock grabbed Porsche by the hand and they ducked out of the bathroom through the now mundane door. Shade chuckled to himself about it. He could relate; the first time he’d used a modern toilet again after his return, it had been a bizarre sense of relief and glee. Rajah’s contented sigh indicated he was experiencing much the same.
Following Rajah out of the restroom after they both washed their hands—and sure, Shade hadn’t used the restroom, but he’d been in the hedge for a long while and he just felt dirty—they found that Porsche and Pollock were blocking a bearded cowboy’s access to the restroom. Shade walked up and whispered that they were done, and Pollock excused them all from the hallway, leaving the bearded fellow to wonder what the heck had just happened.
Out in the body of the bar, their appearance drew interest. Mindful of the difference between the mien that their fae magic gave them and the mask that mortals saw, they were uncertain how they looked to the bar’s patrons. But at a guess, Shade would say that disheveled and tired were definitely amongst their descriptors. He took the lead in rushing through the bar toward the entrance.
Holding the door, he contemplated Rajah’s clothing in particular. The muscular beast wore leather armor and hedgespun raiments. Each article of his clothing was made of the fantastical cloth and materials of the hedge or of Arcadia itself. The golden leather was certainly not made from any earthly creature, the way the hairs sticking through it flexed and quivered. Shade didn’t know what to call his pants or his boots, but he was sure that his friend’s appearance was quite a sight to anyone who hadn’t the sight to see. Heh. Words.
Outside, they found that it was dusk, and that they were on the east side of town, close to the airport.