Here is the second excerpt from Dory Fiamingo’s absorbing novel, of which I’ve been quoted as saying, “the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read.” The first excerpt appeared yesterday, and the third will be published here at the Café tomorrow.
Sebastian (“Bastian”) is an almost-immortal private eye able to leap from one world to another. Maggie, the love of his life, had walked out on him thirty years earlier. She shows up at his cosmic bookstore, The Falinn, and introduces Bastian to Aderyn, her granddaughter (whom she assures him is unrelated). Later that night, the eight-year-old girl, who possesses magical powers, is kidnapped. Bastian must, of course, give pursuit.
There was a time when I would’ve been terrified that legions of Scrits or Murks were waiting in the dark of the stairs that led up to my apartment prepared to rip me apart, but that was before the Lords of Waking, the five oldest and most powerful beings in this world, had declared The Falinn neutral ground. Anyone needing protection can choose to invoke sanctuary within its walls, and as long as they don’t leave or offer harm to The Falinn’s hosts or guests, they will be safe. Anyone who breaks that sacred trust is immediately cast out of The Falinn and then hunted down and destroyed by one of the Lords. We’ve never had any problems.
I went up to my rooms and took a long, hot shower to wash away any Shadowlands residue and the stink of escaping it. Afterwards, I dried off, dressed, and put the ring in an open glass bowl on the corner of my kitchen counter. Then I called Mrs. Borelli and told her I’d found her lost ring and arranged a time when she could come get it and pay me the rest of my thousand dollars. To satisfy my growling stomach, I made a sandwich of corned beef and Gouda with lettuce and tomato. I brushed away any remaining crumbs and went downstairs.
Neeko was flirting with a young girl as he handed over her sales receipt and told her to come back tomorrow. I glanced at my watch and sighed. I’d slept the whole day away. He saw me and gestured to the raised twenty-by-twenty foot reading area. It was the designated take-off-your-shoes-and-get-comfy-while-you-read area of the shop. It was also where we both came at the end of each day to bullshit.
The doorbell rang and I smelled wet fur. I turned to see which loup-garoux had come to visit.
Loup-Garoux is French for werewolf; but sometime in the eighteenth century it became the word for a human who was born with the ability to become an animal. The loup-garoux of Portland could become wolves, elks, foxes, bears, tigers, cougars, wolverines, and I don’t know what else. Despite their different animal groups, they’re the strongest pack in the Pacific Northwest. When Victor Russell became the new Fenrir, or pack leader, they became one of the most powerful packs in the world.
This loup-garoux was made of edges and points. Short, spiky, light brown hair topped a compact body with defined cheekbones and a pointed chin. Ziza Nova’s eyes were grey, not grey-green leaning towards hazel, but actual grey like a kitten. I knew they changed to chartreuse when she became a Bengal Tigress. Her eyes found me and she lifted her nose, sniffing the air.
“You okay, B?” she asked. She no doubt smelled traces of my earlier bloodshed, lingering despite the shop’s addition of air fresheners.
I nodded. “Thanks for asking. What brings you here?”
She actually blushed! “It’s Victor’s birthday next week. He’s fallen in love with these Jane Lindskold books, the Firekeeper series. He’s got the first two, but I’d like to get him the third.”
“I think we have it.”
I began to stand but she motioned me to stay. “Thanks, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. I was going to look around and see if there was anything else he might like.”
Ziza left a few minutes later with a bright cheery smile, and Neeko and I began the daily closing routine. Fifteen minutes later we were bullshitting in the raised reading area when the shop’s front door lock clicked and the door opened. We both turned to look over our shoulders at the two people who entered.
I recognized one of them despite her grey hair, and found myself unable to speak as the memories of months of laughter, dancing, and love flooded my mind. Hours of her eyes gleaming like diamonds and my lips tasting the salty sweetness of her body. Maggie. My Maggie. The only woman I’ve ever loved.
She smiled her beautiful, confident, yet softly sad smile. “Hello, Bastian.” Her voice, though older, reverberated inside me.
“Mags?” Neeko whispered.
She turned that smile on him. “Hello, Neeko.” She took a deep breath. “I know this isn’t going to be easy for any of us, but I, we, don’t have a choice.” She looked down at the young girl standing at her side, then met my eyes once more, determination making them burn brightly. “We need your help.”
My mouth had gone completely dry. I reached for my coffee mug only to find it had become a glass of water. I emptied it then stood and walked down the stairs to the main floor. There were wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth. It had been forty-five years since she’d walked away from me. Loving one man was enough for her, but she couldn’t handle sharing her heart with two. In one month, I’d lost both Maggie and Anthony. I’d never blamed either of them. Maggie had married less than a year later. I’d only seen her once afterwards; walking in a park and laughing, the man next to her hanging on her every word. They’d looked so happy.
I pulled her into my arms and hugged her. She felt so thin and so old. This is one of the drawbacks to aging slower than most everyone else. You lose those you loved. They wither and die while your skin remains smooth and your eyes bright. It’s heartbreaking and it’s the main reason why so many Kindred don’t form bonds with mortals they don’t intend to make immortal. It’s just too painful. That may sound cowardly, but when you’ve lived for hundreds of years, falling deeply in love then having your heart broken a few times makes you more than a little hesitant to keep repeating the process.
Maggie was crying when I released her and my vision had gone a little blurry. Neeko enfolded her next and she laughed then, the sound making my heart lift. While they laughed, I turned my attention to the girl. She looked about eight and was wearing a plaid skirt that, I kid you not, matched Neeko’s hideous plaid chair. Slung across her body was a black Hello Kitty bag. Her blonde hair was braided into a crown around her head and she wore yellow sneakers decorated with silver stars.
I knelt before her and said, “I’m Bastian. What’s your name?”
Her eyes remained resolutely on the ground while her hands clenched into fists at the sound of my voice. Confused, I looked up at Maggie who put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “This is Aderyn. My granddaughter.” I felt my smile fade a little. Aderyn was Welsh for bird and had been one of my favorite names.
Granddaughter. Oh boy. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Could she be—? No, I wasn’t going to go there. So instead I said, like an idiot, “Um, okay. Hello, Aderyn.”
Aderyn nodded, but said nothing and continued to look everywhere someone wasn’t.
“Aderyn is autistic,” Maggie explained. “She doesn’t look at anyone directly, but she hears and understands you perfectly well.”
“I’m glad to meet you, Aderyn.” I gestured to Neeko. “This is my brother, Neeko.”
Neeko waved. Again, she nodded without looking at him.
Maggie took one of Aderyn’s hands and said, “Let’s go sit down, honey. You’ll be more comfortable sitting while I show Bastian your drawings.”
“I think I need some coffee,” Neeko muttered as we followed the two ladies to the raised platform.
I stared after him. Neeko on caffeine was like giving a hyperactive child cans of Mountain Dew and a new puppy. The only way to help him calm down was to give him a bag of catnip. He’d turn into a kitten and go crazy for a few hours before returning to normal. Well, it was either that or take him to a bar to pick up chicks, but I refused to be responsible for the aftermath of that scenario.
He vanished behind the coffee machine which began making happy grinding and whirring noises. The traitor. Neeko asked Maggie what she’d like and appeared a minute later carrying a tray bearing three steaming mugs and a large glass filled with what looked like a milkshake. Hmm, milkshakes weren’t one of the machine’s functions.
“Strawberry?” I asked hopefully.
Neeko shook his head. “I think it’s caramel banana.” He handed out drinks—the milkshake was for Aderyn and she took it without any trace of emotion, but judging from Maggie’s pleased smile it was a flavor she liked. We all drank.
“Granddaughter?” I asked softly. There was no point ignoring the elephant any further what with it waving its trunk around and everything.
She nodded. “Oliver was a wonderful man.”
“Was?” Neeko asked, because I couldn’t.
“Cancer took him twenty years after we married.”
“I’m sorry,” Neeko and I said at the same time.
“Our son died in a boating accident and Aderyn’s mother became incapable of raising a child, so I became a mother again.” She gave her head a little shake. “But none of that really matters. We’re here because Aderyn started drawing strange people.” Maggie nibbled her lower lip as she always did when she was worried. “In truth, she began drawing creatures I’ve only told her about in stories. I didn’t think anything of them at first, but then she drew a picture of you, Bastian.” Maggie chuckled. “I recognized you immediately. You haven’t changed much in the last forty-odd years.”
Turning my mind from hurts of the past, I thought about what she’d said. Maggie hadn’t taken any pictures of me while we’d been together, it was one of the ways Neeko and I protected ourselves from history. You can’t hide if there are pictures of you. That Aderyn would have been able to draw a picture of someone she’d never seen was very improbable. I know there are artists who work with the cops, but I had trouble believing an eight-year-old could do the same thing without asking any of the necessary questions to complete a detailed sketch.
Maggie reached into Aderyn’s bag and pulled a tattered sketchbook free. She handed it to me, then sat back in her chair.
I opened the book and stepped into another world.
Aderyn had an incredible eye for capturing the truth of her subjects. Whether it was puppies, kittens, babies, or young children, she managed to reveal joy, jealousy, loneliness, as well as a whole complete range of emotions and actions. Her sketch of a homeless man, his face sagging under the weight of life on the streets, and his hand outstretched in obvious hunger was particularly haunting. Her next drawings were of fairies, brownies, and other assorted small fae. This would have been normal kid stuff to draw except I knew some of them personally.
Upon seeing the sketches of myself, I felt like I was looking into a mirror. In the first, I was leaning back against the sales counter and laughing, my arms crossed over my chest and my head tilted back. The next page showed me sitting in one of the shop’s chairs, elbows on knees, my face resting in the curve of my left palm, a mug held in my right. She’d even managed to get the tiny scar at the corner of my right eyebrow. Amazing! In both sketches my hair was shorter around the bottom and sides than it was now. Had she seen me then?
I turned the page. The Scrit’s hyena-like body was coiled and tensed to leap. Its powerful jaws hung open a little, while its white eyes were startling against the surrounding black and grey.
I met Maggie’s eyes.
“Now you see why we need your help,” she said.
Tomorrow: the third excerpt from Requiem for a Caged Bird.
Dory Fiamingo grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and now lives and writes in Stevenson, Washington, pop. 1,494, up the Columbia River Gorge. Her earlier novel, Daughter of Fire, and art, “Dory Fiamingo’s Sensuous Nude Paintings,” were published here at the Fictional Café. Learn more about Dory at her website.