Petals of the Rose
While Pollock rang up a cab for them, Porsche meandered back and forth along the sidewalk. She breathed in the cool autumn air and felt an unwelcome tension leave her shoulders. No matter what Pollock and Shade said, she hadn’t been ready to run right back into that place, and she was glad to be rid of it. Although it was pretty.
Rajah was looking around with wonder. “So, where are we?”
“Portland, silly.” Obviously.
“No, Maine, duh.” As if.
“Seriously, what city and state are we in?”
Pollock looked over her shoulder and confirmed, “Portland, Oregon,” then returned to holding for the cab company.
Porsche cocked her head. “Why?”
“I’m from Detroit.”
“You missing home?”
“Fuck that bullshit, I’m staying here. Ain’t been shot at yet.”
Shade interjected, “Detroit’s been something of a ghost town since the housing bubble burst.”
Rajah blinked. “What the hell did Bill Clinton do?”
All three other changelings paused for a moment. At varying rates they internalized just how long Rajah had been out of touch with the world. Pollock overcame shock first and hung up the phone. “Honey, it’s two thousand and eleven.”
“Yeah, for real.”
Rajah was silent for a moment, then quipped, “Next you’re gonna tell me the Saints won the Superbowl.”
Porsche didn’t know if they had but she couldn’t resist. She said, “They did!” The look from Raj was worth it. Shade’s knowing nod was ice on the cake. Icing. Icing on the cake.
Abruptly, one of the bar patrons was at Porsche’s elbow. “Hey, little lady, you got a light?”
Pollock shot the man a withering look. “She’s sixteen!”
Glaring back at Pollock and warning her with a subtle gesture to leave her alone on this, Porsche answered “As a matter of fact, I do. Got a spare cigarette?”
“You really sixteen?”
“No.” Seventeen, as a matter of fact. Unless her time in Faerie counted as more than that. She’d have to remember to ask about that later.
He offered her a cigarette and she lit his, then her own with a lighter from her pocket. The man tried to engage her in conversation, and she blew a puff of smoke away. “These really take the hedge off.”
He cocked his head at her. “Excuse me?”
“The edge. They take the edge off.”
“Mmm. Right.” He made a few more unsuccessful attempts to come on to her. It was boring, and finally she made it clear she had no interest and turned her back on him. He might have continued to press her except for a collective vibe from Shade and Rajah that warned him away. Pollock had called the cab company back and was just now finishing up the call. They had a short wait until their ride arrived.
The trip back across town to where Pollock had left her boyfriend’s car was filled with information for Rajah, explaining to him the ins and outs, ups and downs of the last several decades. He remembered now that he’d been deployed in nineteen ninety three.
Any single event would have been unbelievable, but in sum, he had to accept it all. 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, gay marriage debates, hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Japan, the tidal waves in southeast Asia, cell phones, the Internet, digital cable, and enough that by the end, he couldn’t think straight.
Pollock was up in the front deflecting the cabbie’s enthusiastic desire to converse. No good could come from him noticing too closely how little the man in the back new of current events. Suddenly Rajah remembered something else from his past. A name floated out of the void. “Staff Sergeant Marcus Davenport.” They looked at him. “That’s my name.”
Porsche excitedly pulled out her phone. “Check this out. I can look you up.” While she did, she regaled him with tales of Harry Potter and Sam and Frodo going to destroy the One Ring. It took him several minutes to catch on to the fact that these were movies, not actual events. Things like that couldn’t happen in this world. Or could they? In any case, Rajah felt himself gripped by a powerful desire to go see a movie, but before he could tell anyone, Porsche had to go and spoil it.
“Dude, you’re dead.”
“Here’s a picture from your burial ceremony.” She held up her cell phone. He took it from her and stared intently at the tiny color screen. There was no mistaking his name in the text it displayed.
“So am I in that box?”
“Doubtful. That’s probably your glitch. Er, um, what are those things called?”
Shade offered, “fetch.”
“Whatever. It’s like a body double that takes your place. Mine is a bitch.”
“Musta been a idiot, got himself killed in action.” Rajah handed the cheerleader back her phone.
“Better than you being dead. Wish mine would get herself blown up.”
Rajah fell silent, trying to process this on top of everything else. He didn’t really take in anything Porsche was saying about a lady called Gaga, or a series of books about twilight, TV shows, music, and everything.
They arrived back at the parking lot where they’d left a car. Rajah barely noticed that they prodded him from one vehicle toward the other.
Then there were two other changelings walking up to them. Rajah’s hackles raised. He checked the area for likely snipers or other ambushes. Instinct warred with reason and it took a moment for reason to come out victorious. They weren’t a threat.
The first of the two was a rotund monster with a big, wide belly. He was coated in reddish fur, with a big smile painted on his face. He had oversized eyebrows and bestial eyes, but there was nothing animalistic about him. He had the aspect of a sasquatch more than any bird or beast.
The second was covered in scales, somewhere between a snake and another kind of reptile. He kept his hands in his pockets and remained behind his larger companion, obscuring a better view of him.
Polly greeted him like she knew him. “Oh, hey! It’s a surprise to see you here.”
“Word was someone saw your car sitting around, knew you’d driven it before, and got worried when it was still sitting there at the end of the day. Thought we’d come by and check on it.”
“We actually just got back from a very thorny adventure.”
“Oh, one of them.”
“Yeah. This is our friend Rajah. He’s new.”
The big man put out a giant hand, each finger as thick as a summer sausage. Rajah fearlessly put his own hand out and gave the unfamiliar changeling a handshake and a fist bump. “S’up, homie?” He was surprised by how agile the sasquatch’s fingers were in completing the ghetto handshake.
“I’m Jellyman. Jellyman the clown when I’m working. I do kid’s parties, entertain, impersonations, things like that.” He smiled, showing gruesome teeth ranging from brown to green in his mouth. Rajah imagined a miasma of filth coming off of his maw.
By the car, Porsche was still nattering on about how she couldn’t believe that Rajah was unfamiliar with this or that pop music or movie, oblivious to the conversation moving on without her.
Pollock looked around Jellyman’s round frame and peered at the shy reptilian changeling behind him. “Hi. I’m Pollock.”
“Ted.” A tiny hand popped around Jellyman’s side and timidly shook Polly’s. Rajah couldn’t see him well, but he imagined the beast shying back and moving stiltedly, as a chameleon might. Perhaps that’s what he took after. Rajah hadn’t put much thought into the variety of forms that the fae might take, but he was too exhausted to ponder it now.
They bid the other changelings farewell and got in the car. It was time to get some rest.