Well I’ve been putting this off for a while; my return has been a long time in the making. I’ll have plenty of time to think with you in my backpack and the wind in my face. I left…years ago. How long has it been? Five? I rode out of Verde Green Suburbia on an old beaten up dirt bike and I’m returning five years later on a souped-up Mad-Max JetBike. I haven’t called. I haven’t written. But neither have they. Gerhardt didn’t even come to my graduation. I can’t really blame the others. Fredericca hated me, Conrad is a momma’s boy, and Roman and Jesper will just go along with whatever everyone else is doing. But him? Really? That hurt me. But I’m over it.
Awww, Matilda P. Lovecraft, who am I kidding? The tears on my cheeks belie my true feelings. Being disowned sucks…like, hardcore. I’m so tempted to just go stealth-mode, infiltrate, grab the book, and high-tail it with the purloined tome. But that’s not me. Non-confrontational? Maybe in a pinch. In a real fire-fight. But I like to think of it as choosing my battles. And Matty, this is one that I’m choosing. I wanna be up close and personal. I wanna see the looks on their faces. I wanna have this one out. And I wanna leave the better person for having taken the high-road. I’ve grown up a lot since I tossed the Fraulein Fredericca around. I can admit when I need to apologize. But dammit I deserve an apology too. Sigh…that’s what taking the high road means, Matty. Even if I don’t get an apology in return. Even if I get dismissed or told off or disowned…again…I did what I needed to do to make things right for myself. What they do is on them. Besides, it’ll be nice to see Greymalkin and Morgenstern again.
C’mon, just get on the bike and burn rubber. You’re procrastinating.
I still haven’t gotten used to the idea that I’m conversing with myself.
Uh, whatever. So the book I remember in Gerhardt’s possession was actually a rare and really old tome. I have never see another copy — even at The Magic of Books — and I practically ate him out of house and home. In fact, oddly, the only reason I even remember the book was not because it was on my old man’s required-reading list. Gerhardt made me read more books than all his other children combined for my home-schooled arcane education – and I did so gladly. The only reason I remember this book is because it always seemed out of place. The cover was plain. The bindings were worn and old. The leather had stayed remarkably well-preserved. But I’ll never forget that name,“Quoniam in Statera.” It sounded so…I dunno, foreign? And you know how good I am with foreign languages so I immediately checked Goggle and it’s NOT Dragonese. It’s actually Latin and it means “For the Balance.” How odd. I even remember thinking it odd when I stumbled upon it in his private collection in the annex to the library. Why was it kept away from the other books? Gerhardt reserved his private study for only the most special libram and tomes. This one didn’t look special at all! In fact it looked…ordinary.
At the time I couldn’t read Latin and didn’t know enough about Goggle and the internet to look for translations but I COULD read my dad’s …ahem, Gerhardt’s notes in the margins. Man! I’ll never forget how strange and crazy it all sounded. Magic powers, wielding the elements, fire and ice and a different kind of magic, infusion with jewelry and special abilities and powers. It sounded so fantastic! And now…it sounds like the missing piece of the puzzle that has become Antipode and Arctic Hellfire’s amulets. Hopefully Gerhardt will accept a “fair trade” in exchange. You don’t mind riding bitch, Matty, do you? This book I’m trading the old man just doesn’t fit anywhere else.
“Who is it?”
“Delivery? I didn’t order any…”
(Sssssssyuuurp…Thud) The old man’s jaw damn near hit the floor…with the cup of golden dark-amber liquid.
“Don’t call me that.”
“But I’m your”
“Not until you apologize.”
“Seeing you. Hazel. I…”
“Can I come in?” She took a tentative step over the overturned glass of whiskey.
“Yes, yes of course. All things considered I can see why you’d feel like you had to ask. Please come in. There’s so much to talk about. It’s been six years. I…I, you caught me completely unawares. Please, come in and sit. I would say ‘make yourself at home’ but I know how trite and superfluous it would sound coming from these lips. I…”
“Look, I don’t want this to be any more awkward than it already is. And we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I’ll cut straight to business and you won’t have to dredge up all the emotions and memories and all that happy-horseshit a shrink would love to have shrunk.”
“You always did have a way with words Lashhh, er, Hazel”
“Gerhardt I need a book of yours and I’m willing to give you a very valuable tome in return.”
“You don’t have to give me anything. If you need it, take it. I assume you had already planned to leave with it regardless of my response.” (he almost kept the sarcastic bite out of his response…almost.)
“Gee, that’s the ‘dad’ I remember.”
“Don’t interpret my comment as snide derision when it was born of a very…healthy…respect for your burgeoning talents. I hope the ‘dad’ you remember touted my philosophy on books and education.”
“I remember it well after having completed three older boys’ LIFETIMES worth of homework. Your philosophy on books and education made me an academic machine with no friends, no social life, and a ravenous hunger for knowledge and an unquenchable thirst for adventure.”
“That’s the spirit! Besides, that’s the most valuable lesson I could teach. Friends, family, pets – permanence – it all comes and goes. What you’ve got in this life…the only thing you’ve ever really got is yourself. You are more my daughter than any child to have ever come out of your mother’s body.”
“She not my mother.”
“No. Not anymore.”
“She never was…but that doesn’t make what I did right. I owe her an apology – a REAL apology – and I’m not too proud to admit it.”
“So you haven’t heard?”
“…haven’t heard what?”
“I figured Conrad was lying when he said he had contacted you. Lashe, my dearest, be wary of your brother. He has taken this…hardest of your siblings.”
“Wary? Of Conrad? You’re not making any sense.”
“Come, I’ll tell you on the way. And you may offer your apology in-person. And I will do the same.”
“Ger…dad, you’re scaring me.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come, it’s just a short walk.”
I got the sense that something was off. Gerhardt answered the door looking…shabby, unkempt, and somewhat bedraggled. He was really emotional when I appeared at the door – not the clean, shaven, stolid, and emotionally detached Ubermensch from the Hinterlands that I remember. The Hills are Alive with the sounds of sorrow. When Gerhardt offered me the book for free I could write that off as shock-induced. But when he told me we could take a short walk and I could apologize to Fredericca in person I knew I was on my way to a grave. We strolled out of the back screen door and ambled along a well-worn path. My father had obviously made many such trips. The scene was surreal and…disorienting. So much was happening so fast. Was I ready for this?
I kept pace with the old man and followed in his footsteps. He was in no rush. The thrush chirped a warbling tune in the distance and the last rays of a setting sun my lovely pulse faded away…beating in time with a growing darkness. Twilight…the comforts of night. My mother had died. Somehow. NO! Fredericca had died. My mother died 21 years ago after bringing me into this world so I could be adopted by the man who walked a few paces before me. She wasn’t my mother. She wasn’t. My mantra soothed the savage drops that stained my cheeks and wined and dined my red-rimmed eyes.
He must have heard me sniffle because my dad stopped, not turning, and offered his hand. I took it out of reflex. It was big and meaty, like Verge’s, but my dad…he had that same sense of permanence he said I’d only feel of myself. Somehow I couldn’t ever imagine him NOT being there…not being around…not being…my dad. Even if he could be a dick.
And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
And you can’t fight the tears that ain’t coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive
The headstone was blank. Considering the grave was practically in our backyard it didn’t seem to matter. What’s in a name anyway? There was a lily chiseled into the smooth, solid surface – as if that was all she needed. Perhaps that was all my Dad wished to remember. There was a small cairn built up from river-rocks. Greymalkin was perched there, surveying a landscape littered with kittens on the backside of tumultuous scree. My father stood, silent, stolid, stoically shedding water for the dead with his head bowed. I wept openly. I had so many questions but I couldn’t utter any of them. I knelt on the ground, let Greymalkin remember my scent, and tentatively reached out to the kittens. She gave her approval by not slicing and dicing my hand and I scooped up a fuzzy little ball of fluff and curiosity and nuzzled him tenderly. I don’t know how long I knelt there, crying into the kitten’s now moist fur but after a time I felt a large, strong hand on my shoulder that broke the reverie of my sobbing silence.
“A blood clot caught in her brain. She had a stroke and died last year on Christmas morning. She never spoke about you but I could see forgiveness in her eyes as her life passed from this world. I held a small service here, for family, and buried her alone. She would have wanted that.”
“What about the boys?
“What about them? They each grieved in his own way. Roman and Jesper with booze and heavy metal. Conrad brooded. He didn’t attend the service. He has been reclusive and…distant. The last I heard of him was through Roman who said Conrad had invited him and Jesper to visit him in Century Station at his new apartment. He hinted at having a new employer and making…a better living and more money. Told Roman that he ‘put his talents to better use that that effical old man’. I had to explain to Roman that effical isn’t a word. Poor kid.”
“So how was the weekend? Did the three blind mice enjoy each others’ companies?”
“I honestly don’t know. The boys haven’t spoke to me of it and I haven’t pried or pressured them to open up. They stop by once a week for dinner with their ‘pops’ but I know they only do it to appease me. They’re busy with their lives and jobs and girls and beer. All I can do is be there for them if they need me or want to spend time with me — and I’m okay with that.”
“That’s very mature of you.”
“How good of you to recognize.”
“Tell me, the blood clot…was it from the incident?”
“Lashe, dear, it’s impossible to know. Don’t dwell on the past. You came here to do something.”
At that moment I gently placed the furry little creature back down besides its brothers and sisters and stood beside my father, looking at the chiseled stone flower. I had lost control and lashed out at Fredericca…at mom. I had hit her so hard that she literally flew like a rag-doll through the air. I couldn’t remember the incident clearly. The memories blur with emotion and time. I remember…very little accurately. But I know I broke her hand. I remember feeling no small amount of satisfaction when I felt it crumble beneath my grip. Watching her slip on a pool of my own blood. The horrible memories flooded back into me. I took a deep breath and began the litany that would set me free.
“I’m sorry that I hit you and hurt you. I’m sorry that a blood clot from the incident caught in your brain and gave you a stroke. I’m sorry that you died so young. I’m sorry that we never got along and that I always felt like you hated me. I’m sorry that you couldn’t have a girl and that I felt like a constant reminder of your failure.”
“Lashe,” Gerhardt murmured in a guarded tone.
“I’m sorry that I was always driven to excel. I’m sorry that I became more educated and proficient with magic than your boys. I’m sorry that I embarrassed the apple of your eye and ran circles around him intellectually and mystically. I’m sorry that I wasn’t what you wanted.”
“Lashe, dear,” he insisted.
“I’m not finished,” she gritted her teeth. “I’m sorry that am different…that I’m something inhuman. I’m sorry that I have a monster inside of me. I’m sorry that all I wanted was to fit in. I’m sorry that all I wanted was to be loved. I’m sorry that I hung on your every fucking breath for even one…ONE fucking utterance of kindness. I’m sorry…I’m so so sorry that when I hit you, when I crushed your hand and smashed your body, I’m sorry that I fucking loved every second of it!”
“That’s enough!” Gerhardt bellowed with a loud thunder crack. Hazel was taken aback and momentarily stunned by the loud sound and…by the veracity of her own words. The pause gave her a few seconds to contemplate her mother. Time to move on.
“I’m sorry. Mom. I’m so so sorry. All I ever wanted was your acceptance. All I ever wanted was your love, to please you, to make you proud. And the more I tried the more I felt like I was pushing you away. I’m sorry that I couldn’t say this to you while you were still alive. Mom…I’m so terribly sorry.”
Her dad moved closer to stand at her side, took her hand, and pulled her to face him. As ever, she had to crane her neck upward and her tear-stained eyes were glassy and wet like saucers.
“Come now. You’ve said your peace. Let us speak, now, not as father and daughter but as equals. I treated you unfairly. I treated you with contempt. And I wrongly blamed you for things not your doing. I was wrongly swayed by others opinions and not strong enough to trust my own judgement, my instinct. I owe YOU and apology, Lashe’evadne Sycorax-Circe Griselda Duchesne. My daughter. My true flesh and blood. I apologize to you, girl. I love you. And I am grateful to be your father. You have shown tremendous courage, strength, compassion, fortitude, and sage wisdom. You are a good person. And I am honored to have trained you and loved you as my daughter. You have grown into beautiful woman and I couldn’t be happier for you or prouder as a parent.”
“Thanks…dad,” she sniffled and hugged him fiercely. He returned the hug gently and tugged her toward the house.
“Come, I will make us something to stave off the sadness.”
Gerhardt always had been something of an alchemist. He concocted a surfeit of food and drink that bordered on edible and managed to keep Hazel from walking straight…or thinking clearly. It was just what the doctor ordered.
(hic) “What is this stuff?”
(grrrr) “It’s the old man’s recipe, it is.”
(eyebrow raised) “Oh really?”
“Aye, you’re not ready for potions, girl. I’ll unearth the cookbook when you’ve mastered your spell-book.”
(grin) “Well I’ve mastered my pocket-book.”
(chortle) “Hah! That you have! That you have.”
(eye open) “Hey, what’s that scratching at the door?”
(grrrr) “Looks if someone follered you home. Still damp where ya wetted ’im with your tears. Refugee, it is. Let it alone.”
“Awww, but dad they’re so cute and so young!”
“They growed up soon ’nuff.”
(clomp clomp clomp. Door opens)
“I’ll feed ’im to yer next ye visit. Pot pie. Count on it.”
(plaintively) “Daaaaad! How can you be so callous?”
(grunt) “Ay got on fine long afore me and ay got on fine long affer me. Ingrates just lookin’ fer hand-outs.”
(shakes head) “You’re a softy at heart. You wouldn’t cook this guy in a pot pie!”
(grrrr) “Watch me. So whens ya comin’ back to visit with yer old man?”
(bright idea) "I know! I’ll take him with me! I’m sure he’ll be fine in the backpack with Matilda and there should be plenty of room now that I’m leaving that giant arcane tome and picking up “Quoniam in Statera”."
(inquisitive) “What did you say?”
“Uh, that’s the book I came to borrow from you. I’m studying these magical amulets that imbue the wielder with the ability to fly and to cast spells and to control the elements. It’s pretty cool actually. My research hit a dead-end and I need that book to finish it.”
“Oh, er, have at it. Anything I can help with?”
“Nah, not really.”
(deflated) “Ohh, hmm, okay. Good luck.”
“Well dad there IS one thing you can help me with. See, I’m not sure who or what I am. I look human – just like I looked human for the first 16 years of my life. But I can transform into this other…Darker, form. And while I’m in that form I feel alive and powerful and stronger and faster and…I fuckin’ know Kung-Fu. And I see weird things in mirrors. Oh, and maybe related…maybe unrelated. I’d say about 70 or 80 percent of the time, whenever I cast ANY sort of spell, it comes with some really weird side-effects that appear to be totally random and weird and…um, unexpected. It’s completely unpredictable and it happens all the time…EXCEPT this one time when I used one of the amulets I’m studying to cast a spell. Oh! And it NEVER happens when I do my special thing in…Dark Hazel form. I’ve taken to calling that my True Form…while this skin you see right now — that’s just a facade.”
“Uhh, um, hmm…let me think on this. The batch is a potent concoction. So what will you call him?”
(purr) “I think I will call him…hmm…ah! I got it! Omen. That’s Augurio in Dragonese-Spanish.”
“A fitting name. May he wear it well. Would that Morgensterm were around to meet him.”
(forehead slap) “Where is the old hooch?”
(solemn) “Passed not long after your mother. Cancer. Conrad was especially fond of him…and of her. He walks a dark path, girl. He has strayed from the teachings and the Legacy of this House. And he has disassociated himself from me. Heed this warning, dear Lashe, for he now lives in Century Station and I fear he bears you ill will…and blames you for the deaths of his mother and his dog.”
“Selfish prick. They were MY mother and MY dog too! I EARNED them! I wasn’t just born with them. Consider the admonishment heeded. Well pops I think it’s time for me to shuffle off. It’s getting late and I’ve got to get back. I’m on patrol duty tonight.”
“Patrol? I thought you said you were working for a web security programming company.”
“Yeah, well I’m moonlighting as a…” (pause)
“If you don’t want to tell me I respect that. But please be careful.”
“Dad, I’m doing my part to help make the city a safer, cleaner, better place. And I’m making a difference. Maybe you should try reading a paper some time.”
(incredulous) “A newspaper? Why ever would I read that?”