Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The King's Ward - Released

# Calista #

I shift from side to side, admiring myself in the changing room mirror.

Well, admiring the good bits anyway. Straight auburn hair, small button nose, kind of cute. The freckles are minimal and I like them well enough, though I have to be careful not to get too much sun on me. Eyes, green freckled some with other colors that don't stand out too much. Body's nice, I think. Rounded and womanly but not big anywhere.

It's the expression on my face that distresses me, and always does when I look in a mirror or even think about it. If you could imagine a facial expression that was lonely, this would be it. I fell it deep through to my core and it grows by another layer every day.

No one notices me. No one talks to me unless I talk first and then it's just surprise that I'm there. If I fall silent, so do they, even if I'm sitting right opposite. A slow fade of attention and I know they don't see me any more. When I give up and go there is a start of surprise and it's just like they've seen me for the fist time.

Try getting though a whole interview for a job when as soon as you fall silent or stay still for even a couple of seconds the interviewer is looking for the next applicant, having forgotten that you exist. Try working at anything when people don't see you.

But to go with the losses there are bonuses that make life possible.

I like the white jumpsuit, I decide, finally. It's one item, and that's a plus. Less to carry.

I change back into my old clothes, looking somewhat worn because I don't change them too often. I can't carry much with me on the move all the time. I change clothes when I need to, discarding old things and keeping new. I travel light and I never stop travelling.

I'm careful winding my way back through the store to the checkout. It's not so bad when I'm moving but still people will walk into me if I pause to look at something. “I'm sorry, I didn't see you there.” Sometimes I think I'll just punch the next person who has cause to say that, or scream “Why? Why didn't you see me?!”

I've done that. It's pointless. You can't keep yelling forever and as soon as you stop...

Not today, though. Today I'm reasonably in control. Today is my birthday. I'm seventeen. I've been alone for four years. On the move. Searching for someone I may never find, someone who has answers.

My mother was useless. You're under someone's nose all day every day they can't help but know you exist, or so you would think. I guess she picked me up and fed or cleaned me when I cried. I guess she noticed me then. When I was old enough to know what that blank look meant when she first saw me after I'd been out of her sight for a while, I asked her if she even knew who I was.

“Do you even know who I am?” I screamed, actually.

“Why of course I do, dear,” she said, as bleary eyed as a forgetful drunk, which she mostly was for reasons of her own, “you're...” and I swear she hesitated, looked vaguely around until her eye caught a picture of me – and getting that picture taken had been a marathon effort. I'd had to fidget so the photographer knew I was there. “Calista.”

“Your daughter,” with the dumb name, “Calista,” angry. It was my birthday then, too. She'd forgotten again.

“Of course, dear, I know. No need to sound like that.”

She'd looked away and I'd stood still. When she looked back she didn't see me. After a while she looked puzzled, like she wondered why she was standing there doing nothing, then wonder away to some household chore or another. I forget what.

At least I only forget things that don't matter.

Like paying.

Well, I didn't have any money on me and it didn't matter. I walked behind the counter and used the machine to get rid of the security tab.

“Hey,” The shop assistant saw me, “you're not supposed to be here.”

Mentally I just sighed and stood still. Not reacting has become a habit. Someone is mad at you, just stand still for a bit. It doesn't take long.

The slow confused what-was-I-doing look steals over her face and then a customer comes up to the desk and she turns automatically with a smile and a greeting. As she checks out the items, I take hold of a bag and take a slow step back out of her peripheral field of view. The customer sees me but is incurious. I step out from behind the counter, slip the nice white jumpsuit into the bag and walk slowly away.

It's a small boutique. The small stores are best. There are cameras but no security watching, no security guard on the door. Small but not too expensive, that's the secret. No one sees me as I walk out the door and onto the street.

Milelake is a small town in New York State. It only has one thing I'm interested in, and I'll check that in a while and be disappointed again. It can wait. I've been here less than an hour and only have a few impressions of a small town, one high street, a square with a few shops, another street with more sedate businesses and offices, and as the bus drove into town, a commercial district on the long road into town.

I'd paid for the bus ticket. It's too much trouble not to. I make some money doing the statue gig, all dressed up. People don't even see me unless I move, the shock lasts a few moments, long enough to laugh and think what a great statue I make and put some money down. And then they don't see me any more, and move on, looking puzzled and wondering what they had stopped for.

It's a depressing way to make money, though. Sometimes I'll steal the money instead. Later on, I'll do just that as I'm a little short and not in the mood to dress up. It's the wrong time of day in any case. It's late afternoon, sun almost gone, people home from most places of work. Only a few shoppers on the streets. I decide to go and have a shower so I feel okay to change into my new clothes.

The motel is on the edge of town, back the way the bus drove in. It isn't a big town so it isn't far to walk.

On the way I passed the diner and fished out the photo.

Might as well be now as later, I thought. After all, I'm right here and I can always goof off until the morning and ride right out of town to the next one. There are 320 in the chain of diners in different towns all across the country. I average one a week. None is the right one.

The picture is of a man. He is tall and charismatic looking. Strong chin and high cheekbones, dark hair with a hint of color in it, just the merest hint of auburn. He stands in front of the big picture window, just like every other diner in every other state, and is just about to get into a car. There is nothing to show which diner this is. It could be any of them. Mostly sky is reflected in the window. But there is, if you look real close and careful, the corner of a sign and the bottom of two letters. An a and an l.

I hold up the picture and line it up. I have to move several times before I'm standing in the right place. I used to look around first and try and guess, but in the end I began to put off the disappointment as long as possible by trying to get what I was looking for by looking in the big picture window in just the right place...

“nial”'s just a glimpse but my heart thumps.

I lose it and look around. I don't see it in the street around me. It's not like I know exactly what I'm looking for. A sign of some sort ending in... and there it is. Centennial. It's a street name.

I look back at the picture and see it's right. I've found it. At last.

I don't know what to do next; not right away.

I think the man in the photograph is my father. And I need to find him because I believe he has some answers for me, answers that I desperately need.

Who am I? Why do people not see me? Why weren't you there for me?

Questions. But no one to ask. Not yet.


I waited in the lot close to the office until a middle-aged couple pulled up in the lot and walked in. I followed them. They were not aware of me. I took an extra few paces to the end of the desk away from the door. The desk guy saw me but they were talking already so he looked away and forgot me. As soon as the desk guy was engaged, I just sidled round the corner bit by bit. Then I waited while they went through the transaction. When the desk guy took down their key and took the two steps he needed to pass it to them, he didn't see me. I had my eye on the key I wanted, having spent a few moments looking at the map. The old couple turned away. Everyone with their backs to me. I reached out and took my key, turned and nipped down a short corridor to the little crappy restaurant this place had.

I pushed into the girl’s restroom and took a barely needed pee, then strolled out unchallenged and went to find my room.

I always pick the room that's right on the edge of things. No one has ever caught me. Mostly they don't even notice a key is missing without a tenant listed for the room.

At the far end of the lot, I find the room and unlock the door. It's small and fairly dingy. A cheap room. Not well used or often selected. It's clean enough. Just a bed and a TV in one room and bathroom with a shower in the other.

I close the door and dump my small pack on the bed.

I need the shower. I want the hot relaxing water that will strip me of stress as well as the grime of the day. Then I'll try and sleep. Maybe watch some TV first, sound low. I'll talk to the people on the TV, maybe I'll find something I know so I can say one character's lines and hear myself answered. Like they are talking to me. Like I exist.

Now clothes for the morning, I think, and the thought cheers me. The next step in my personal, possibly hopeless quest.

My mother didn't have any answers for me. I don't know, but only hope that my father does.

If I can find him.


“Do you recognise this guy?” Getting people's attention is work. I have to walk up bold, talk loud, keep moving like I'm some kind of fidget or they lose me.

The middle-aged waitress holds the picture but I don't let her take it. It helps keep me in her mind if I keep some pressure on the picture she's holding. If I let her have it she might just absently put it in her apron pocket and wander away.

She looks at the picture. “Why sure, honey.” Then she looks up from the picture and changes her mind. “No, I guess not. No, I don't know him. Why are you looking for him?”

She's curled her hair in a perm and dyed it, not the right color but not too far off, either. Not a fool, then. She feels cautious, yes, but more curious than anything. Looking for gossip, maybe, or a story to tell herself and elaborate on.

“He did me a favor, is all. Picked up a hitchhiker down on her luck, bought her a meal and gave her a few dollars. She said she'd pay him back but he said no need.” I smiled, I'd been moving the whole time. I pointed to the picture. “Wouldn't give a name so I took a snap and hoped when I was passing again and have the money...” I let it go, no need to elaborate. She'd either buy it or she wouldn't.

“He lives here?” She looks thoughtful, still a little confused. “You're sure?”

I pull the picture out of her hands and walk away. I don't bother saying thanks. It's not like she will think of me again, ever. If I talk to her again she might remember me, sort of, but not vivid, not unless I remind her of details to stir her memory of me to the surface.

“Why, you're welcome,” she says, starting indignant and fading through sarcastic and sliding into vague before she finishes.

Already forgotten, I leave the restaurant.

# Byron #

I've finished my free breakfast and drinking free coffee when I notice her and everything changes.

Breakfast is free because when I decide to go I'll just take the check and go to the bathroom. By the time I walk back through the diner, no one will remember I owe anything. If they see me at all, it will be like seeing me for the first time. Unless I make a point of it, no one will pay me any attention at all. You get used to it. There are benefits.

Seeing it happen to someone else is a first, though.

Auburn hair, white jumpsuit, pretty in an unusual and interesting kind of way. I don't look at her directly, or do anything to attract her attention; ground in habits. But behind the bar is a long mirror and I can see her clearly in it without even turning my head or shifting my eyes more than a fraction. I know how I look, long hair and brooding expression. I look annoyed all the time, even when I'm not. I can't pin down her expression, though. Something settled and fixed by constant use, but not easily read.

The girl shifts her balance and moves in an unnatural, deliberate sequence as she talks to the older waitress. I can see Janet reacting the way she does to me when I want to talk. Her attention fading away and snapping back and fading away until I give up and stay still and she looks around, annoyed that her mind has wandered and she's been doing nothing she remembers in a busy grill.

They are both holding a picture, both leaning over the counter to see it.

I can't hear from here. Not now. The girl had spoken loudly enough when she had pushed herself into Janet's awareness. She'd picked her moment, appeared seemingly from nowhere, though she must have been standing right there the whole time, and demanded attention.

She'd held out the picture. “Do you recognise...” and that's where I'd lost her as her voice wound down to a more normal pitch.

What I'd done next had been automatic. I'd focused my mind on her, imagined myself closing the distance in a silent rush, imagined looking at the world through her eyes and listened for what she was saying.

And I'd heard nothing at all.

# This is a YA adventure novel, corrently complete and in edit. I'll releases as soon as this process is complete and the cover image is ready. #

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