Episode #30: “City of Chimeras” by Richard Bowes

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City of Chimeras

by Richard Bowes

1.

Salome's hand is the hinge and John the Baptist's head is the hammer on the doorknocker at the Studio Caravaggio. I slam the brass head held by its brass hair on the door a few times before the spy slot on the iron door opens and closes.

To mortal eyes here in the Middle World even a half-breed Fey like me can appear a bit translucent with his hands and hair trailing away like phosphorous. In my case most of that is the effect of Prince Calithurn's Glamour having rubbed off on me. But at this address I'm recognized and expected. Though since I've come on time, I am by local standards early to the point of madness.

Just then, I feel the probe of another mind. By instinct I block it. The rivalries and feuds of the tall elves are twisted and beyond logic. Recently certain ones have appeared in Gotham who can scan and probe as well as my lover Calithurn or any other Fey. And these newcomers mean us no good. This time however, it's Prince Cal himself and I let him into my mind.

"Enemies from this world and Faery are at my throat," he announces. "Though my father has abandoned me, his enemies have not. My cousins from the South and their friends from the West are closing in. I need you by my side, Jackie Boy."

Full transcript after the cut.

[Intro music plays]

Welcome to GlitterShip episode 30 for November 22, 2016. I am your host, Keffy, and I have a story to share with you today, but a message first.

We are two weeks into the longest nightmare many of us have ever faced, and a resurgence of horror for those of us who have been through the darkness before.

I have no gentle platitudes to offer today. I am sure that I am not alone in fluctuating between broken-hearted grief, staring terror and burning rage.

I tweeted most of this yesterday, but I feel that it bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating.

There are already people telling you the Right or Best or Most Effective way to resist fascism. Some of these Best ways are not accessible to everyone, for a number of reasons. Some have higher costs for some groups than they do for others.

There is no One Single Best Way to fight fascism. The Best Way is anything you can do. Maybe you can make unlimited phone calls. Maybe you can take to the street. Maybe you can't. Maybe you can do something else. Maybe you can survive.

What if the only thing you can do is remind your friends and the rest of us fighting that we are loved, and we need to drink some water? Do that. What if the only thing you can do is wake up and tell your friends that you are still here? THAT IS WORTH DOING.

There are people who say the best way is to wait. Or that unless you do X, your effort is worthless. Don't listen to them. It is true that some single actions will have more immediate effect than others. But, the answer is not "Do THIS THING or DON'T BOTHER."

The truth is that we need EVERYBODY to fight the rising tide of fascism at EVERY STEP using ANYTHING THEY CAN.

What are YOUR skills? What can YOU do? Do that. Keep doing it. In the darkest hours of humanity, we have still needed people to cook meals, to fold a blanket, to hand a cup of water, to give a hug, to babysit, to say "you are meaningful."

RESISTANCE IS NOT A SINGLE HERO. RESISTANCE IS MILLIONS OF ACTS BY MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WHO WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE MEAT GRINDER.

Many of the contributors, creators and listeners to GlitterShip are marginalized along one or many axes that make them feel threatened after this horrible expression of white supremacist power in the United States. We must all stand together to protect all of our people, all the way to the most vulnerable of us. If you are queer or trans, make sure that you are protecting those among us who are also people of color, or poor, or disabled. Those of us with more privilege to higher standards. Those of us who are white, who are not members of targetted faiths, we must be willing to stand between our friends and those who would destroy them.

It isn't easy. Oh, it isn't.

I admit that I spent some time wondering how I was going to make things happen, if GlitterShip is worth it, considering what we face. The first two years of episodes have been difficult, partly for personal reasons, and partly for the rising despair as all of this around us keeps slipping into horror.

But. GlitterShip remains. I am a queer, trans writer and editor. I am selecting stories that speak to me, many from among the voices of other queer and trans people, many of whom have very different backgrounds from myself. Authors of stories I have run are trans, non-binary, gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, immigrants, latinx, disabled, asian, and on and on.

There is a lot of work to be done, but GlitterShip will remain. We will continue to be a voice in the dark. We're still here.

Our story for today is "City of Chimeras" by Richard Bowes.

Richard Bowes is an award winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His fiction has won two World Fantasy awards, a Lambda award, Million Writers, and International Horror Guild awards. He has published six novels, four short story collections and seventy-five stories. Many of his works are listed on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database if you would like to read more of his work.

City of Chimeras

by Richard Bowes

1.

Salome's hand is the hinge and John the Baptist's head is the hammer on the doorknocker at the Studio Caravaggio. I slam the brass head held by its brass hair on the door a few times before the spy slot on the iron door opens and closes.

To mortal eyes here in the Middle World even a half-breed Fey like me can appear a bit translucent with his hands and hair trailing away like phosphorous. In my case most of that is the effect of Prince Calithurn's Glamour having rubbed off on me. But at this address I'm recognized and expected. Though since I've come on time, I am by local standards early to the point of madness.

Just then, I feel the probe of another mind. By instinct I block it. The rivalries and feuds of the tall elves are twisted and beyond logic. Recently certain ones have appeared in Gotham who can scan and probe as well as my lover Calithurn or any other Fey. And these newcomers mean us no good. This time however, it's Prince Cal himself and I let him into my mind.

"Enemies from this world and Faery are at my throat," he announces. "Though my father has abandoned me, his enemies have not. My cousins from the South and their friends from the West are closing in. I need you by my side, Jackie Boy."

This is just my lord in full dramatic flight. A half-breed with half a talent, I can block probes but I have no ability to reply. In any case there's not much I've been able to say to him lately.

And I still have time before I need to be back beside him. Part of my half Fey birthright is the gift of Foretelling. And even in the worst future I have seen, he won't leave the mortal earth until this afternoon.

The studio door swings open. Power is out in the city and seen from here in the silver morning sunlight the interior of the studio looks like a dark cavern.

The gate keeper is a mortal, young naturally in this house, a girl I am certain. What I had thought last time was short, feathery gold hair I see now is short gold feathers that cover her head, legs and arms. A small russet robe is draped over the rest of her body.

She steps aside saying, "He's still in bed," and indicates the way.

The skylights above are dirty; most of the tall windows are curtained. In a jumble of costumes and props, I make out a green and silver farthingale and an amber and blue doublet and hose tossed over a pool table, a Wehrmacht helmet hung on the high back of a wooden throne.

A sudden shaft of sun points up a blue and white pattern of pagodas and willow trees on a stretch of tiled wall.

As I approach the Japanese privacy screens at the far end of the studio, a spaniel with the eyes of a child barks and backs up. A naked boy with a V of reddish hair on his chest is flushed from behind the screens and scuttles out of my path, one hand half concealing his crotch, the other clutching a donut. Green eyes and white teeth flash in what might be a fox's smile or snarl. I think I can hear the click of his nails on the floor.

Since I first saw him here, I have been curious about the fox boy. I calculate that by the reckoning of the middle earth, I'm in my early twenties and that he's a year or so younger. But time has already put a mark or two on him. As a half-Fey, I am untouched and forever young.

I part two screens and look inside. On his huge, disorderly bed half covered with a sheet lies a large man with a big belly, dark hair on his face and body, thin hair on his head. Scars new and old: the jagged ones on his left shoulder and chest are more recent rough repairs of knife or broken bottle wounds. Neat laser traces on the knee outside the sheet indicate sleek, old fashioned replacement surgery.

The artist who calls himself Caravaggio is half awake. "Jackie Boy all ephemeral and flickering," he says focusing his eyes on me. I don't much like that nickname and he knows it. In the land of the Fey, Jackie Boy is a way of indicating my half human status. In this place, the word boy refers not to age so much as lack of money and position.

"Getting awakened by an angel is not necessarily a good sign." He sits up with a groan with the sheet still around him. "Nope, still alive. Everything hurts."

"You said you had something to show me."

"Well to show you and your lord. I was hoping against hope that he would stop by," he says and stumbles out of bed with a rueful smile. Some passions aren't even forlorn wishes. And the one he has for Calithurn qualifies.

The sheet falls away and the fox boy, now in the loose boxer shorts that are often all the clothing a street urchin wears, reappears from the dusk. He holds out a dark green hooded robe into which Caravaggio inserts his arms without looking. The fox and I may be about the same age but I am a young man with connections and a bit of money. I've started wearing silk drawers in the same style as his under my riding britches. But a boy like the fox probably owns not much more than the, knee-length shorts he has on.

The kitchen, I know, lies through a nearby door. From there comes the smell of coffee and toasting bread and the sound of an alto singing a chant. That singer is joined by a husky not quite human voice way off key. Laughter follows and silence.

Half walking, half stomping, flicking switches and cursing when they don't respond Caravaggio makes his way across the floor until we reach the screening area. There he touches a wall panel and a small generator hums up on the roof. The alto from the kitchen, with fur as black as a panther's, chants as he brings out large mugs of coffee.

The artist hits a couple of buttons and on a screen before us is an old map of Gotham. The magic island between two rivers lies at the center with New Jersey and the outer boroughs around the edges. Then the map tears open and a winged horse with a rider in gold armor leaps through: Prince Calithurn.

No such event has actually taken place of course. My lord is not in the habit of intentionally performing circus stunts.

The screen fades to a tumbled down street where an impossibly tall man, semi-translucent, seems to disappear into the broad daylight only to flicker back into sight as he speaks to a crowd. "We will take what is best from here and what is best from the Kingdom Under The Hill. We will make of these a new realm on Earth…."

This actually did happen. It was during Cal and my first days here. That was when I first spotted Caravaggio and his camera. The crowd, when the camera pans it, is colorful; one or two sporting wings where there should be arms, a couple with faces that slip between human and animal. But everyone, human and chimera alike, are enraptured, a rabble willing to be roused.

Then on screen I see that the almost ephemeral Calithurn, without missing a beat, has his sword in his hand. The blade twirls in the air, cuts in two a man with a drawn pistol. This also happened but not on the same day, nor in the same place.

The artist says, "I need so little from you and your prince to tell my story. Just a few samples. Computers will do the rest."

On the screen is a large room and the only light is coming through the windows, a place of dark split by areas of sunlight full of girls and boys with bare feet, knees and arms but who wear raffish feathered hats, elbow length gauntlets, belts with daggers. These are ruffians who watch, half mocking and half in awe as an angel in gold and jewels, brushed leather jacket and, polished knee boots, suede knickers and a flowing silk shirt, his hair a halo, his ringed fingers trailing away like phosphorus, stands before a tough man in a battered motorcycle jacket and says, "I summon you in the name of my Lord Calithurn."

The man is Caravaggio himself, sporting a beard that he doesn't have. The angel is me, standing where I never stood and saying what I have never said: all of this through the worldly magic of cameras and computers.

"This is the look I'm driving for, the film I'm striving to create," he says. "One where men at their worktables are summoned to greatness by angels while their pretty little friends look on amazed."

All of this startles me. The Foretelling is a skill of the Fey in which some of us have visions of our possible futures. This disheveled mortal seems to have magic at least as great.

He says, "I'd like to see you as one of the crowd at the table too when we have you here all bare and informal."

He finds his joke amusing. I ignore him.

Suddenly the power comes back on in Gotham and all around us in the studio the mysterious shapes and muted colors are revealed to be broken furniture, piles of tattered costumes and random accumulations of junk.

My host turns and shouts, "Dowse them!" The black figure moves gracefully, humming, smiling, flicking switches until we are back in a circle of artificial light.

"Turn this way, you creature of another world," the artist says viewing me through a lens. "Yes, that expression is perfect for an angel. Polite impatience."

To mortals here in their earth the Fey, even half-breeds, are creatures of wonder and, they hope, salvation. Caravaggio calls himself a director, an auteur. What he is, at least in part, is a scavenger of images. Scavenging is the local industry.

"What you saw is what I finished yesterday," Caravaggio says. "I'm going to play it by ear and eye. Since I don't know what Calithurn and you have planned.

"Please tell him," he says, "That I'll go wherever he wishes for as much or as little a time as he has to spare me. I'll immortalize him. People will flock to him. He will be a hero, a mayor, a President, a king."

He pauses. "You're impressed by my impudence."

I'd come here this morning to see if what he had done was good enough for him to be entrusted with showing Lord Calithurn to the mortal world. "I'm impressed," I tell him. "I want you with me and with Calithurn today. If you agree we'll go to him right now."

He jumps up immediately. "I can have my rig packed and ready in a few minutes. Bring my crew…"

"No. This could be dangerous and it will be hard. Just you and that camera you had that first day. Get ready!"

He gives me an angry look but selects a camera, goes through the contents of a canvas bag, grabs items and stuffs them in. Then he pulls on pants, steps into sandals, flips the hood on his robe over his head and shambles towards the door.

In the land of the Fey, fairy/mortal mongrels like me live in the Maxee, the demimonde that has grown up around the Kingdom Beneath the Hill. We never grow old but are never admitted to the true Elvin lands.

Cross-breed here has another meaning. The sly faced boy who has just made Caravaggio's bed and now sits on it cross-legged, smiling at me as I depart, the black-as-night alto, the feathered girl who opens the door to let us out, are by-blows of the chimera craze that possessed this city in the years before the bombs and earthquake. Genetic manipulation was illegal and thus enticing.

The day is growing warm. On the street, small bare children play in the water spraying from a busted fire hydrant. For a moment I am caught, reminded of doing that back in the Maxee.

Suddenly a bicyclist, a youth whose red skin blends with his entire wardrobe of scarlet silk drawers and the red bandana on his head, rides through the spray, sending shrieking children and drops of water in all directions. His lizard eyes flicker my way.

Longingly I watch him speed down the broken street. The Maxee too had wild boys of a sort but I was the child of a Fey and so was kept a bit apart. I thought about them and envied them their lack of status when I was a child.

Caravaggio looks at the bicyclist and at me and seems amused. I think this whole city is a hunting ground for him. I picture Caravaggio when the want assails him, going out and snagging a partridge girl or cat boy and carrying them indoors to dress a set, to warm a bed.

Heads turn as we hurry along the buckled sidewalks of this devastated but vital place. I hear someone murmur, "The devil steps out with an angel." And I see us reflected in a broken pane of glass: him stomping along like he has hoofed feet and me glowing like a minor sun.

My companion calls out, "Morning, Al. Morning Flo," to the couple opening the soup kitchen on the corner. Under his breath he identifies them to me, "Albert Schweitzer and Florence Nightingale."

It still amazes and amuses me, all these mortals with immortal names. Jimi Hendrix, one eyed and white haired, plays guitar and sings old songs on the street. Calamity Jane collects scrap metal in a big truck that's mostly scrap metal itself. John Henry rides shotgun for her.

Then I hear rolling thunder from further uptown and realize I've allowed myself to be distracted by this city

Suddenly I am probed by a stranger. I block and get probed again. They’re trying to see what I see, to find out where I am. Immediately after that, I receive a command from Calithurn. "Jack, get back here, now!"

At that same moment there is a yellow flash and Lionel Standler appears at the wheel of his cab. With a dead cigar stub in his mouth and a cap pulled down over his eyes, Lionel too has taken a name from the legendary past: the original was an actor who played cab drivers in old movies.

He has become chauffeur for the House of Calithurn. I'd told him to stay out of sight after he'd driven me down here this morning. I help Caravaggio haul himself into the back seat and jump in beside him as the cab takes off.

Deftly swerving around pits in the street, jumping only once onto the sidewalk to avoid a fresh rubble heap on Eighth Avenue; Lionel rolls towards the park and the Palace Calithurn.

The city, Gotham, is a hodgepodge of trash built on the ruins of wonders. Wherever two streets cross at least one of the four buildings on the corners will have been reduced to a pile of rubble years ago and left that way. The lights go off at odd hours of the day and night.

Old men with lined faces and beards will point up to where silver spires once pierced the sky. Women can be gotten to talk of the wonderland of stores that existed here in their youth. They sit on broken benches in a park where an arch has collapsed and a gibbet stands ready and waiting. They say that at night music could once be heard from the open doors of a thousand clubs and blasting out of car radios and that musicians played on subway platforms under the streets.

The life I lived in the Maxee was not so far removed from the ones I see around me. My mother came from Gotham decades ago in human terms; years as the Fey reckon it, when it was a powerful and prosperous city.

In Elfland she met and lost my father, a Fey who rose to high rank and abandoned us. She owned The Careless Rapture, a café in the Maxee district and left it to me when she died.

It was there that Calithurn found me when he was having trouble with his father, Clathurin, the King Beneath the Hill. He hid out in my bedroom upstairs from the café when the King's officers were looking for him.

And I was the only one he took with him when he fled from that place of well ordered magic and quiet oppression to the gut-wrenching stench and glimpses of grandeur, the chaos and chimeras of the mortal world and the city of Gotham.

It has never happened before but I've had two separate Foretellings of Calithurn and my future. Both are vivid but both can not be true. In one we ride through the city on winged horses to the cheers of the crowds. In the other we stand on a hill in the wind and rain surrounded by our enemies with no hope of escape. Lately, the second has seemed the most likely.

Cal has told me many times that we will not go back; surrender does not enter into it. We will face death right here, the two of us. I no longer think he really believes this.

2.

From a few blocks away, I can see the Palace Calithurn bathed in Glamour and the noonday sun. Flecks of light, like bits of diamonds, shine in the black stone surface. The flags of the prince, a silver unicorn leaping over a blue globe with the inscription in Elvish, I Invite Your Envy, fly in a constant magic breeze above the turrets.

Lionel stops when I tell him to. "There may be trouble. Keep out of sight," I say, "Be ready to take Caravaggio back to his studio."

What magic I have is passive. Prepared for troubles today, I wear my favorite Fey clothing and my most precious ornaments and jewelry. I have a wallet with sixty thousand dollars in local currency in the pouch pocket of my riding britches. In my jacket pocket is a rap gun that can knock down ten men at fifty paces. In my right boot is a jump knife that will come to my hand from three feet away.

When the earth moved and the city fell, some parts that were built on solid rock or saved through fate stood while all else went down. The big old buildings that remain on the west side of the overgrown park are like armed forts, like compounds, where the magnates of the city live.

It was through Calithurn's cleverness or the kind of instinct for ruling that he'd inherited from his father that he had ensorcelled this palace among the castles of the wealthy and powerful. Almost as soon as we arrived, he took a devastated building, not much more than a pile of rubble and through magic and enchantment raised this breath-taking, infuriating place.

It lies so close to the headquarters of the Bank of Shanghai which owns the city's future and to the home of Santee, the boss who makes and unmakes mayors, that no one dares to assault it or bomb it from the air. A tank lying smashed in the street is testimony to mortal frailty and the eternal vigilance of Lord Calithurn.

Caravaggio pauses for a moment pointing his camera up. "Chutzpa," he mutters, "Hubris. Balls beyond those of mortal men."

As we approach the front gates, the building shimmers for a moment. Only I notice that the Fey Glamour has faltered.

The guards who keep back the constant throngs of favor seekers and gawkers call themselves Fess Parker and John Wayne. Parker is a tall thin man in buckskin and a raccoon cap, one blue eye squinting against the sun, the other wide and clear. He cradles an AK47. The other man is husky, hands like hammers, guns strapped on both hips. His eyes are hidden in the shadow of his Stetson brim. But Wayne telegraphs in his blunt, artless way that he's staring at your every move.

They nod, almost bow, to me and wave along my companion who pauses to film them. We pass through the gates into the courtyard where the magic horses, Bellephron and Callistro, snort and flap their wings.

Not two months ago, Cal and I rode these chimeras out of Elfland and into this city. I argued back then that we should let them go home and make ourselves inconspicuous, live among the people and get some sense of this place. Cal would have none of this. He is a prince. So we lived in this palace he wrought and we made ourselves known and envied.

After that first assault failed, the magnates of the city didn't dare attack us. But there were ones in Elfland, enemies of his father, who were happy to find the prince alone except for his half-breed boyfriend. At first Calithurn slapped them away. Now they have returned in numbers.

Inside, on the main stairs, Selesta sweeps past us, her small ears drawn back, and hisses her defiance. An actress, a singer, Calithurn's newest mistress, she still thinks that I'm jealous when all I am is disappointed. About his favorites of the moment, Cal told me, "Mortal toys, Jack, nothing more."

Whereas I, only part mortal, would count as only partly a toy.

I hear what sounds like distant thunder. The palace gives a small lurch and I see us again, Calithurn and myself, just the two of us standing with our horses on a hill with wind and rain and our enemies all round us.

We find Cal in the roof garden sprawled on the longest couch in all of Gotham. He stands and embraces me and for a moment with his golden hair and dark eyes he is the lover I first knew, the one who could suddenly appear swinging in my bedroom window and who, when he departed, would stride across the dawn sky waving farewell.

We came to middle earth, to this city, to form an alliance with the wronged and desperate mortals. With them, we said, we would return to the land of the Fey and break the hold of Clathurin, the King Beneath the Hill, and the father of Cal. Our idea was naïve and thus dangerous.

Where all was sunshine a few minutes before, clouds have rolled in. I find myself deflecting a mental probe from not that far away, and then deflecting another. These aren't attempts to communicate. The Fey who have reached out are trying to smash their way into my consciousness.

Calithurn's eyes flicker and I know he's feeling the same thing. Then he closes his eyes and with arms outstretched, turns 360 degrees. Briefly the probes cease, the sky lightens.

I'd forgotten about Caravaggio. But he's still present, still filming. I turn to introduce him.

And I see in the man's eyes his desire for Calithurn. It's plain that my lord has conquered this mortal artist, this pot bellied man whose scars are the most interesting thing about his body.

My Calithurn's lip curls. He shows the two of us a house in a neighborhood of similar houses, a fat, fairly happy looking little boy on a tricycle, an ordinary couple smiling at what is obviously their child.

As we see the images we are told: Louis Falco, born in Bethpage fifty years ago, child of a civil servant and a dentist. They never understood why you took the name Caravaggio. You blight this world. Turn that camera off or you and it will be a puddle on the floor."

I catch the anger in Caravaggio's eyes, the contempt in Calithurn's glance and step between them. With my lord in such a mood, expressing his rage would be fatal for the mortal.

At that moment, the attack begins again. Thunder rolls and lightning splits the sky. One probe after another hits us. This distracts Calithurn enough that his Glamour, the magic that holds the palace together, flickers. I hear the building groan.

"We need to get everybody out before people are hurt," I say. "We're drawing fire and putting them in danger."

Calithurn shrugs, "It is time we set out on our travels," he says and sounds almost bored.

I yell for the palace to be evacuated and we head for the stairs. The building shakes as we descend. In the courtyard Bellephron and Callistro stamp and unfurl their wings. Servants stream past. Chunks of stone fall around us. Selesta is there with a suitcase full of what she considers to be valuables. Calithurn mounts Bellephron and lifts her up without ceremony. I'm on Callistro when the gates open and we canter out into the street.

"Get the people away from this place," I hear myself shouting. Fess Parker and John Wayne and the other guards force the crowds back. The horses spread their wings and glide across the street and into the park.

I hear a roar and a collective gasp and look back. My lord has abandoned his toy. Without his attention, the Palace is gone, disappeared in a cloud of dust. The rubble we first found is all that remains. I spot Caravaggio filming it all.

3.

Entering the park, I know that Calithurn is going back to Elfland and that his time in Gotham has been a kind of royal tantrum, his talk of helping the mortals was idle chatter. Cal has been my lover and is my lord. I will be loyal to him and true while he is here. But as I've fallen out of love with him, I've fallen in love with this city.

We pause on a grassy rise and it's somewhat like what the Foretelling showed me. But that was a wilderness and a blasted heath and this is an overgrown park with buildings or the ruins of buildings visible through the trees, with Selesta whimpering and the remains of squatters' camps underfoot.

It's dark, though, with the wind blowing rain as I'd foreseen and I can see figures, some mounted on winged steeds, in the trees before us. This is the beginning of the road to Elfland and we are not going to get through it without a fight. Cal looks around and it occurs to me that he has run out of ideas and is waiting to be rescued.

Then I'm hit by mental probes, one after another. I've never been punched repeatedly in the face but that's what I think of when I can't block all of them and some get through. I feel bits of memory, my mother's tired smile, my father's constant surprise at his half mortal son, the streets of the Maxee where I grew up, being yanked out of my skull.

Someone catches images from my Foretelling, sees as I saw the pair of us surrounded in the wind and rain. Someone else finds the fear I feel as this happens and twists it. Poor Callistro, whom I'd been trying to protect, gets spooked and rises up in terror, bucks and throws me.

Then I'm on the ground fallen on my right shoulder. There is shooting pain, my limbs are jerking and my head is banging up and down. There's blood in my throat, my left eye is clouded and my shoulder feels like it's broken.

Cal is standing over me broadcasting, "Off of him you cowards! Who will fight me? Let each of you sons of bitches challenge me one at a time!" And I know this is the end of us and want to be on my feet beside him.

Then all at once with nothing first, there is a huge bang and bright light. The rain is gone and a great voice bellows, 'WHO DARES DO THIS TO MY SON?"

Cal is silent, staring and I manage to half rise and look where he does. King Clathurin and all his power are here, thousands of Fey with their armor glittering. Clathurin is a big man but at this moment, he is gigantic.

"STAND FORTH AND FACE ME," he commands and waves his scepter wand. When I look over to the trees, there are bodies strewn about on the grass and none of them are moving.

King Clathurin looks around for a moment then he turns and comes to Prince Calithurn who steps forward. They embrace and Clathurin's host raises their weapons in salute.

I struggle to my feet when I see the king walking away with his arm around his son. And I understand that Calithurn's expedition to Gotham was just a way of getting the attention of The King under the Hill.

The presence of so much Glamour makes my eye clear, stops the bleeding in my mouth and the pain in my shoulder.

Cal hasn't even looked back. I'm having trouble thinking. But I understand that if I did return, he and I will not be together. I will live again in the Maxee, the great demimonde, like my mother and all the other past and present lovers of the Fey. I will become one of the local legends. "That half breed was the lover of Calithurn. Long ago, they went off to mortal lands together."

Selesta trails after Lord Calithurn not understanding that she's already forgotten just as I am. I wonder if my old coffee house the Careless Rapture is still there and if they will think to give it to her.

Would I have gone back with them if Clathurin had taken me in his arms as he did his son? Probably. But that wasn't going to happen. I am a half-breed who has become inconvenient.

Will I follow Cal if he turns and gestures for me? No. I am going to remain here with the other chimera.

Then, as suddenly as he appeared, King Clathurin is gone, along with Calithurn and the rest, gone with not a trace of their Glamour left behind.

And I'm alone in this strange land, feeling like the insides have been knocked out of me. The Fey do not laugh and do not cry and I inherited that from my father. I did not cry at my mother's death and I do not cry at this.

It strikes me that the futures I foresaw for Cal and myself may just have been scenes from movies that hadn't yet been made. At that moment, the Foretelling takes me again.

I see myself in high summer with the fox boy and some of the others from the studio. We are on a sidewalk walking down to the river. I am dark-tanned, not ephemeral in the least, dressed like the other street kids in nothing but my baggy shorts and with my hair tied up under a blue head bandana. It would seem to be late summer, four or five months from this moment. And I'm too dizzy and confused to know what to make of it.

"Jackie, you look like you're lost," I hear Caravaggio say. He's right beside me but sounds like he's far off and under water. "You took quite a fall there."

He turns me around and I see the yellow cab up on the grass. Lionel helps me into the back seat. Caravaggio gets in on the other side and we make a U turn.

"It doesn't seem like he can take care of himself," Lionel says "His boyfriend's got enemies that would love to pick him clean. No doubt off him."

None of this feels like it has anything to do with me. We drive out of the park. A mob of scavengers is crawling over the rubble of the Palace Calithurn, a couple of them spot the cab, one or two have guns. But Lionel is too fast for them and speeds away.

"I can hide Jackie among the crew at the studio," Caravaggio says. "But we need to make him less noticeable."

"Here's a place." The cab swerves and suddenly it's twilight in an alleyway between two buildings. I notice that Caravaggio has attached a small camera to the cab ceiling. Lionel opens my door of the cab. "OK Jackie," he says, "Hand over the clothes and valuables."

"Why?" I try to go for the rap pistol.

Caravaggio says, "Because there are two men and a boy in this cab," and pins me. Lionel pulls my ibex leather jacket and silk shirt off over my head. There's a burst of pain in my shoulder and I cry out.

"Look at those bruises!" Lionel says.

"Nothing broken anymore or he'd be screaming. He heals fast is my guess. That black eye is fading already. I think maybe there's a slight concussion," says Caravaggio.

As they talk they're working on me. My head spins, pain shoots through my shoulder and I can't stop them. In moments the rings on my fingers, the one my mother gave me, the one that my father owned, are drawn off my hands. My watch and bracelets and earrings and the gold collar around my neck, love gifts of Calithurn get taken.

"Make a move for that jump knife Jackie and I'll break your other arm!" Lionel says. My boots of Elvin leather, the hose woven in Moir, the belt with the heavy silver buckle, are stripped off me.

I hold onto the waist of my riding britches and beg to keep them. Even these knee pants would be a small sign of status and there's the wallet and money in the side pouch. It's just about all I have left.

"I looked forward to doing this," Caravaggio says and yanks them off me. "And this," he adds riffling through my wallet and papers. Lionel pulls down my under shorts to make sure I haven't got anything else to steal but lets me keep those.

"A young man of affairs wearing a small fortune on his back one minute," says Lionel, gathering everything up, "A boy with nothing in the world but his silk drawers the next."

It's a warm day but I understand what's been done to me and feel like I've been run through with an icicle. Even if I could find the way, I can't go back to Elfland like this and I have no one here to turn to.

Caravaggio pulls my hair into a tight knot in back, ties a bandanna on my head. He pops open a palm sized screen and shows me the picture the camera is capturing. I'm amazed to see myself as I appeared in the Foretelling.

Caravaggio, murmurs, "You think only Fey can read minds, Jackie Boy? I've seen how you looked at my crew, at the boys on the street. You were curious but disdainful. Now you're going to find out about that life first hand."

Driving downtown, Caravaggio, speaks softly. "If we hadn't gotten you out of the park, you'd be dead by now. We could have left you in that alleyway and you'd be dead by midnight. You're still alive and I'm going to keep you that way. You're going to learn how to survive in this world."

He has his arm around me and massages my neck like I'm a nervous show animal, and says, "With what I shot today and my half of the take from what you had on you, I'm going to make the greatest film to come out of this city in a decade."

I want to ask him why I've been robbed and humiliated and what is going to become of me. Then we arrive outside the studio and Lionel opens the cab door. I realize that in the course of an afternoon I've lost everything and now am nobody. And anyone who sees me from now on will know that. I flinch away and want to hide.

But Caravaggio forces me out onto the sidewalk saying, "Get used to it Jackie. The first time you ever ordered me around, which was the first time we met, I told Lionel I'd lead you into my studio dressed just as you are right now."

"And I thought you were crazy," Lionel laughs. Before he leaves, he says, "Go easy on him Caravaggio; he always tried to do right by me and the others."

Caravaggio has hold of my good arm or I'd try somehow to cover myself. I did not cry for my mother or for Lord Calithurn and I do not cry at this. Though if I was mortal, I think I would.

This world has traps a Fey could never imagine. This morning I strode down this street and heads turned. Now the pavement is rough on my bare feet and I need to watch out for broken glass. In the Foretelling I walk on it easily.

Ordinary passersby pay almost no attention to one like me. But when the feathered girl opens the door I see in her eyes awe that her boss has magic that can turn an arrogant Fey into this cringing street urchin.

The rest of the chimeras, more than I ever guessed were there, gather as I'm led by the hand through the studio. Some are astounded; some are highly amused that the well-heeled visitor of the morning has returned to the zoo, stripped and bruised, as the newest addition to the menagerie. I hear giggles and whispers as I'm shown to Caravaggio's bed.

In the Foretelling these are my friends and I can look people in the eye. But that's a future possibility. There's more wonder and terror in any square foot of Gotham than in all of Elfland.

Exhaustion is about to take me when I hear Caravaggio say, "His name is Jackie Boy and he's come from a long way off to find his true home among us." Then he tells the story of how I lost everything I thought I had.

END

"City of Chimeras" was originally published in Helix, summer of 2006.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

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Thanks for listening, and I'll be back in early December with a GlitterShip original!

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