Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Excerpt / Friday Fiction for October 29, 2017

This is posting late for Friday Fiction, so it’s kind of a combination of Friday Fiction and Sunday Excerpt. “The Historian Project” is likely going to be on hold for a little while, since NaNoWriMo begins this week, and my writing attention will be devoted to this year’s project, “Blue Fish, Red Fish.” If you’d like to participate, please add your link to the LinkyTool below.

My first NaNoWriMo was in 2006, and my project then was the third story in the Pod series, “The Daedalus Child,” about a young man with his arms engineered into functional wings. This still remains one of my favorite stories, and since Hallowe’en is this week, I thought this excerpt would be appropriate. It's a bit long for my excerpts, but I think the chapter is best shared in its entirety.

The Daedalus Child

Chapter 5

            Janice’s opinion of Park security changed over the remainder of the summer and into the fall.  She had expected them to tolerate her one dinner, but to resist any attempts for future visits with Bobby and Helen.  Instead, they smiled and made no notice of the growing friendship.  The number of evenings she could be found at the apartment, playing games or watching movies with the Malachs, became more frequent and just another part of the routine.

She sat with Helen one afternoon on her day off while Bobby was performing in the live-action show.  “Do you think he would enjoy getting out among regular people for an evening?”

            “I’m sure he would,” Helen said.  “Not that I think he would be allowed to, or that he’d be able to walk around unnoticed.”

            “I’ve thought about that, and I have an idea.”  She explained her thoughts, gratified to see that Helen’s smile indicated she liked the plan.

            A few weeks later, she waited for him in his apartment, watching the Park crowds through one of the small windows.

He returned in the late afternoon, commenting on how it seemed the Park got stranger every year for the Halloween season.  “At least it will be over tomorrow,” he said.  “They’ll start getting all the Christmas decorations in place, but the weird stuff will be done.”  He looked around.  “Where’s Grandma?”

            “She’s taking Kyle around trick-or-treating tonight.”

            He finally noticed her outfit.  “You’re in costume, too.  What are you wearing?”

            “It’s my Renaissance Faire dress; do you like it?”

            “It’s nice, but why are you wearing it?”

            “It’s Halloween, and you and I are going out to a movie.”  She pulled a long black hooded robe from a bag. 

            “Going out?  I thought the plan was to just watch movies here tonight.  They’re never going to allow this.”

            “They won’t even know,” she said.  “You’ll put this on; it has a skull mask to go over your face, so no one has to know who you are except me.”

            “But they’ll see us going out through the employee exits.”

            “And why would you need to go out through any exit?  It’s almost dark; all you need to do is fly out after sunset and meet me nearby.  No one is going to question me walking out by myself; you meet me, put the robe on, and we drive to a theater where no one is going to think anything strange of a couple in costume on Halloween night.”

            “Can we really get away with this?”

            “Why not?  You’re not going out as Daedalus, so what worry is there of your possibly doing anything to detract from the image of the character?  Tonight, you’re going out as Death, and it’s really hard to damage his reputation.” 

            He smiled as he warmed up to the idea.  “Okay; let me eat some dinner, and then I’ll take the elevator to the roof.  Where should I meet you?”

            “A friend of mine works at the hotel across the street.  She gave me a pass key that will let me get on the roof.  That will be a good place to meet with minimal chance of anyone seeing us, and also provide a good place for you to take off from to fly back here afterwards.”

            “This is crazy, but I like it.  I mean, a real theater; wow.”

            “With a 3-D movie, even,” she said, and smiled.  “I’ll see you across the street in a few minutes.  I’m sure it will take me longer to get there than it will take you.”

            She rode the elevator down and headed for the employee exit.  No one paid her much more mind than simple greetings, other than the normal check of her bag at the door to be sure she wasn’t taking anything out she shouldn’t.

            She pulled out of the parking lot onto the busy boulevard, and took longer to drive the short distance to the hotel than it would have taken her to walk it.  Parking in the visitor section, she proceeded to the elevator, where her key allowed her to select the roof.  She stood in the dark for a few minutes before Bobby dropped down beside her.

            “This is the first time I’ve been outside the Park without a handler since I signed that contract,” he said.  “Man, it feels good.”

            She took out the robe and helped him into it.  A full-length zipper closed it in front, and once she had the skull mask on his face, the hood went over the top of his head.  “Can you see through the mask all right?”

            “Just fine,” he said.

            They rode the elevator back to the ground floor, and blended in with everyone else in costume in the lobby.  It was tricky getting him into the car, considering the length of his arms, but with the seat reclined a bit and pulled all the way back, they managed.

            “Are you okay like that?” she asked, as they merged onto the freeway.

            “It feels strange riding like this, but I’m not uncomfortable.  Does my grandmother know about this?”

            “Who do you think helped me set all this up?  She made your robe, and that’s why she has Kyle tonight.”

            “Jan?  Is this a date?”

            “I suppose it is, if you want it to be.”

            “I’ve never been on a date before.”

            “Then, sure; it’s a date.  I haven’t been on one in a couple of years, either, and it would be a shame to let this year go by without both of us having one to remember.”

            With tickets already in hand, she led him past the line of other moviegoers, many of whom also wore costumes.  The only statement she heard in reference to the two of them was one person wishing they’d thought to buy their tickets in advance.

            They took seats in back of the theater, and when the reels started she slipped the mask from his face and put the 3-D glasses on him.  He made occasional appreciative comments on the effects, but other than that they watched the movie without conversation.

            She’d seen it before a number of times, and even in 3-D, but based on his reaction it was the first time he’d watched that movie.  His fascination with it renewed her own enjoyment of the show, to the point she thought the end credits appeared far too soon. 

            Removing the glasses from his face, she replaced the mask before the lights came up in the theater.  While the chance of someone recognizing him outside the context of the Park was slim, they both agreed it was better to not risk it.

            As it had been in the hotel lobby, the crowds in the theater paid them little notice, and more often than not when someone did look their way, they were gawking at her bosom, pushed up by the tight bodice she wore.  More than once, she caught his eyes straying to her bust.  She smiled.  Once in a while, it was nice to be admired for her appearance, and most of the time he gave scant indication that he thought much about how she looked.

            They got into the car, and she looked at the time on the dashboard clock.  “Are you ready to go home yet?”

            “Can I wait until the stroke of midnight and see if the car turns into a pumpkin first?”

            “Well, I have to work tomorrow, so I really can’t be out that late.  We could stop and get a milkshake, though.”

            “I’d like that.” 

            She searched for and found a certain fast-food place, and pulled into the drive-through lane.  “Two pumpkin pie shakes,” she ordered, and proceeded to the pick-up window.  She placed the shakes in the cup holders, and headed down the freeway once again.  When she selected an off ramp, it was to park at the beach.

            They sat in the front seats with the windows rolled down, shivering slightly from the cool ocean breeze and the cold milkshakes they were drinking.

            “You know, the first time I ever saw the ocean was from a helicopter?” he said.  “That same day was the first time I ever went swimming.”

            “It’s hard to picture you swimming.”

            “It’s hard to say no to Brenda.  She was pretty persuasive at getting me into the water.”  He lifted the milkshake to his face, holding the cup between the heels of his thumbs.  He drew in a large mouthful through the straw, savored it for a moment, and swallowed.  “She convinced me to dance with her, too.  If you have a hard time picturing me swimming, imagine me dancing in the water with a merrow.”

            “A merrow?”

            “It’s what the Pod call themselves, instead of mermaids and mermen.  Brenda is one of them, and she was the one that told me I should get an agent and try to make a living off my wings.”

            “You sound like you have a girlfriend; are you sure you’ve never been on a date before?”

            “I don’t think she qualifies as a girlfriend.  We write to each other a lot, but we’ve never even so much as hinted at a romantic relationship.  She was the first girl about my age that I ever talked to, though, and it was nice that she understood what it was like to have been engineered to be so different.”

            “She sounds nice.”

            “She’s a lot of fun, and around her was the first time in my life that someone besides my grandmother and Tina made me feel like I wasn’t some hideous monster.  From the moment the Pod saw me, they just accepted me for who I am.”

            “I can’t imagine why anyone would think of you as a monster.”

            “Listen to that preacher, Rusty Phillips.  He thinks I’m some kind of demon-spawn.”

            “Phillips is a lunatic; don’t pay any attention to him.”

            “He may be a lunatic, but he does have a point.  Admit it, Jan; if I’d put on red body-paint tonight and a pair of horns, I would have looked perfect as a devil.  Angels are drawn with gorgeous white-feathered wings, while demons have fleshy, bat-like wings.  People who buy into the traditional imagery are going to think I look evil.”

            “How do they know angels don’t have bat-wings?  Who’s to say what an angel’s wings look like?”

            “You don’t have to convince me; I don’t see something evil when I look in the mirror.”

            “I don’t see something evil when I look at you, either,” she said, and then laughed.  “Though in that black cloak and skull mask, you don’t exactly look benevolent, either.”

            “Maybe not, but you were right; it worked.  No one gave me anything more than a passing glance tonight.  For the first time in my life, I’ve been out among regular people and I didn’t have to worry about what they might think of me, or if I’m going to terrify someone.”

            She checked the time.  “We better get back; it’s going to be hard enough getting up in the morning as it is.”

            They drove back to the hotel, exchanging small talk.  The lobby was mostly deserted when they entered, and the desk clerk looked up just enough to register their presence before going back to whatever he was doing on his computer.  She used the key in the elevator again, and they stepped out into the cool night air on the rooftop.

            “I had a great time this evening, Jan; thank you.”

            “I had fun, too.  It’s too bad Halloween only comes once a year.”  She flipped the hood back from his head, and unzipped the front of the cloak.  “You won’t have any problem finding your landing spot in the dark?”

            “I’ve done night-flights before when I’ve had problems getting to sleep.  I can find my rooftop without any trouble at all.”

            “I’ll be over to pick Kyle up in a few minutes, so I’ll see you at your apartment then.”

            “Is the date over now?”

            “I’m afraid so, Bobby.”

            He sighed, and started to turn away.

            “Well, except for one thing,” she said, touching him on the shoulder.  She turned him back to face her and slipped a hand behind his head.  Giving him a quick kiss, she looked into his eyes with a smile.  “You know, you’re supposed to kiss back when someone kisses you.”

            He hesitated, and then brought his lips to meet hers, wrapping his wings around her body.  His kiss was tentative and unsure.  “I really don’t know what I’m doing,” he whispered.

            “It’s okay,” she said.  “You’re doing fine.” She kissed him again, putting more feeling into the gesture.  When she drew back, she said, “Now the date is over.”

            He smiled and drew his arms away from her.  “I hope we can do this again sometime.”

            “I do, too.”

            He went to the edge and stretched his wings a few times.  Crouching down first, he leapt off into the dark.

            She returned to her car, and sat in the parking lot for a few moments, sorting through her thoughts.  The kiss had never been part of the plan.  They were supposed to just go out to a movie, maybe get something to drink, and then come home.  The beach; the kiss; she’d made it into a real date.

            She turned on the lighted visor mirror and looked at herself.  “Is that really what you wanted all along, Jan?  Did you just convince yourself you were doing something nice for him, when all along you wanted to remember what it was like when a guy wanted to go out with you just for you?”

            Someone had warned her when she was pregnant with Kyle; having kids changes things.  People treat you differently.  She hadn’t wanted to believe them, but learned all too soon the truth of it.  So many guys that were charming and wonderful ran like scared rabbits the moment she uttered the words, “my son”.

            Not Bobby, though.  He’d included Kyle in his first invitation to her.  He was crazy about the boy and enjoyed hanging out with him.  A small voice echoed in her mind.  Don’t fall for a guy just to get a daddy for Kyle.

            Why did life have to be so confusing?

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