Monday, September 28, 2009

The vanished city

There are no cars in Vancouver. There were once. I saw them. Before the city vanished from your world. Sometime after that, they stopped working. Avalon told me the reason once. Lack of fuel.

No cars. No buses. The people ride bikes. All the time, since there's not weather anymore. There are trains for long distances. I'm not certain how they're still working. Probably because people believe they should. It worked for electricity.

None of this is what makes Vancouver weird. What makes Vancouver weird is everyone there acts like nothing is weird. Just kilometers and kilometers of normal. Thing as they are. Always have been. Always will be. Normal is quantified and enforced.

All that's really relevant about this is that it means Vancouver is a quiet city. Sometimes, in some parts, it's a very empty city.

"I need a haircut," Dante mutters.

He doesn't. Not really. His hair is now about the same length as mine. He's just use to it being shorter.

"It looks nice," Maria tells him. She smiles, like smiling can make what she's saying more factual.

She's been humming with concern for him. The change has left her shaken. He dances along. For all his practicality, Dante manages to accept whatever the day brings and moves on. Maybe because of that practicality. He saves being unnerved for things that are unnerving.

When Dante finds something unnerving, it's way past time for the rest of us to be worried.

"Nice." His blue eyes meet my reflected green ones in the large window across from us.

"You look like Oliver." I shrug. "He's nice enough."

Dante regards his reflection for a moment. "I do."

"Who's Oliver?" Maria asks.

Dante starts to answer. I can guess it would be a truthful one.

"Just someone we know," I say.

"I don't really know him," Dante says. "I know of him."

"Is he from here?" Maria asks.

Dante hesitates. It's not that he can't lie. His people are very capable liars. It's that he's decided he respects her too much to be deceitful. But Oliver is not someone Dante should know of. Or talk about.

"He's staying in Emerald City," I say.

A peculiar look passes over her face. Like hesitant veiled belief.

"I go there sometimes." I shrug again.

The music surges. She's increased the volume by sheer emotion. This is why I don't like to talk to people. If I say something, it can change everything. If I say nothing, it can change, too. I had hoped my shrug would change it so she would think it wasn't worth talking about.

"Can you take me there?" she asks. "I mean, if you can leave—"

Dante says: "It's a little different."

As I say: "I don't know."

I don't. There are very few things I don't, but this Thursday keeps confronting me with them. Like it's trying to tell me that what I don't know is significantly more than I thought. Her future doesn't scan as easily as others. What I can do is based on songs of power. Strictly human humans, quiet people from Over There, and Not Quite Right ones like her don't play.

What I do know is that the ones who live in Vancouver have never tried to go back. Or leave the city. They know they have the option to leave, but they choose to stay. To play at normal.

"Ethan was born here," Dante says. "Well, not here specifically."

Maria ignores him. "I'm from Emerald City. I was kidnapped by—something. Some kind of green-faced monster."

Notes of familiarity clamor in my ears. A girl from Emerald City—a fragment of a Beauty power—fragments going missing—a Beauty fragment that crossed the veil between our worlds and didn't return.

We all assumed she was dead.

I stare at Maria. Not dead. Not lost. Abandoned. Discarded. Left as Not Right as the Death fragment who did return. Well not as. Maria's a different type of Not Right. The step before in the process.

I know why she's familiar now.

"Sounds like a ghost," Dante says. "Don't worry. The city guardians keep the ghosts out of Vancouver."

The city guardians keep other things out. Often people, too. Like me. Dante could pass as someone who belongs—not to the guardians, they'll know him by those echoes of power I can't hear. But the people of Vancouver won't know he has no place in their most livable city. Especially since the changes have rendered him more human-looking than not.

He and Maria are fine. Not me. Not with my hair. Not with my ever-changing eyes. Especially not with my skin.

I grab his arm. Feel the tendrils of his silence float through the music.

"Do we have a plan?" I ask.

He stares at me, his mouth slightly open. It makes him look slightly stupid. Dumbstruck.

"They have rules about new things here," I whisper. "She's new."

"We could get her registered," he says. "Uncle Avalon told me the guardians registered all the others who came to live here after."

After what goes unmentioned. I won't tell you, either. It's better if you don’t know. Unless you already do. If you do, don't tell the ones who don't.

"Are they still taking refugees?" I ask.

Not sure what else to call them. The guardians come from Over There. Dante's people. They wouldn’t like the word residents. It suggests a permanence of relocation.

"What else are we supposed to do?" Dante asks. "It's not like we know enough residents to have them convince the others Maria's always been here."

No. We don’t know anyone.

"Avalon does," I say.

It's true. Avalon used to live here. Before Val. Or Chio. Before even Prometheus.

"Are you guys ever going to stop having these whisperfests?" Maria crosses her arms. "You're worse than most girls."

I think Dante's blushing. The change may have had effects on his brain that are just starting to manifest.

"Look." She walks over. "We need a plan. Otherwise we're just running around hoping things will work out."

"That's usually what I do," he says. "My mother raised me to be an optimist."

What Maria was going to say next is lost in her confusion over whether he's serious or not. FYI: He's serious.

"My father's an accountant," he adds. "He puts an emphasis on things balancing."

"My point is that someone will notice me, right?" She spares me a glance. "Since I don't fit in."

Dante pulls the goggles off his head.

"Not true." He hands them to me. "Here, it's Ethan who stands out."

His goggles are heavy in my hand. I wonder if I should tell Maria even if she can go home, she doesn't need to rush. The people she's so desperate to see don't even know she's gone.

"Too bad I don't have my coat," Dante continues. "You could put the hood up."

"We'll find a hat." I slip the goggles on. They aren't very comfortable.

"A hat." Maria throws her hands up. "That's your plan?"

"No. That's the pre-plan. One step at a time." Dante frowns. "They go the other way up, Ethan."

1 comment:

Sarah K said...

The plot thickens!