After Zach went off to find Mrs. Battle, I took the opportunity to swing backstage, where people did their rehearsals when the stage wasn’t available. April was doing her thing, rehearsing her part as if the events a few minutes ago never happened. If it had been me, I’d have been thinking about how much I humiliated myself for the next three days, but April shrugged it off like it was nothing.
I went for the desk where I could find my copy of the upcoming scripts we’d be using. “Hey, Clyde, got anything for me?”
He was one of the managers, and had been since long before I found a job here. He was never an actor; with the amount of tattoos and piercings he had, the only roles he could play were counter-cultural. Besides, he was never interested in the performing side of the business to begin with.
“Yeah, quite a bit.” He pulled my folder from the stack with a glance. “We have a couple ghost stories coming up. And some esoterics we could use your help on. You know how it is post holidays. An indie group was talking to Mrs. Battle about renting out the theater for a weekend. They’re doing something they call a Gothic comedy, and were hoping you’d help them out. According to them, it’s a fantasy version of Rocky Horror.”
That is either brilliant or terrible, there is no in-between. It wasn’t unusual for people to make that request when renting out space, though I often shot it down; most wanted things that were never going to happen. “Okay, I’ll take a look and let you know.” I reached for my folder, to find that Clyde didn’t let it go.
“Oh, and one more thing,” he said, still holding the folder. “About the possible new hire? What’s your take on him?”
One of these days, someone’s going to do a study on how gossip travels so fast. They’ll get the Nobel prize. For inventing FTL technology. What he wanted to know was if I was going to take responsibility if Zach screwed up.
“Mrs. Battle made him an offer a couple weeks ago.” I had nothing to do with it. I think. The woman may have been trying to do me some sort of favor, which was unnecessary, but appreciated… Dammit. “And I’ve met his sister. She won’t let him get away with slacking.” Translation: I’m volunteering for babysitting duties.
Clyde’s grip on the folder loosened. “Okay.” He didn’t sound the least bit convinced. “I don’t want to get involved in anyone’s personal life, but…”
Translation: I’m getting a lot of slack because this business would have collapsed years ago without me. “You’re doing your job, is all.”
I hated the special treatment, but I accepted it for a good cause. Once again, I found myself wondering if I made the wrong call by giving Zach my permission to work here. I took the folder from Clyde and went for the corner furthest away from what little of the crew was here today.
I could appreciate Clyde’s position; for the most part, hires done here were done by the managers, either by interview or by picking up someone from the troupes that used the theater from time to time. In fact, to my knowledge the only people hired by the boss herself were me, and now Zach. It was a change to the status quo, and that always frightened people.
Reading through the plays was a nice distraction; some I knew, others I didn’t. The post-holiday slump was what it was, when almost every business was having a dry spell, so the people who were actors for the art rather than a check had time off work and could devote all that time to their craft. While that didn’t quite translate to ‘quality’, there was a lot of quantity and variety to make up for it.
Clyde wasn’t exaggerating about the ghost stories, either. It seemed some people had dug deep into local legends, pulling up hundreds of years of local Americana and legend to create a collage of short stories. The material was good, well researched, but it lacked cohesion. Sometimes it was patriotic, using entire chapters of Revolutionary Era diaries. Other times, it read like a it was meant to be horror material, or fit for a Twilight Zone episode. In still other places, it was a love story.
Call me weird, but I rather liked it; it felt more organic than other, theme-oriented works. Life was never clean, it didn’t stick to a single overarching theme, and every person dealt with all sorts of things with little rhyme or reason. With my roles highlighted in yellow, I counted over a dozen mysterious manifestations and smoke effects planned through a metaplot of a spirit which traveled through time seeking something it had lost somewhere or when.
Which means I’ll be summoning will-o’-the-wisps by the dozens throughout this production. I was fine with that; on their own, the wisps were amongst my least troublesome summons; support units meant to locate, distract and blind enemies. It took some effort to keep them on stage rather than running out into the audience to serve their function, but even when one did break my control, the audience lapped it up as part of the show.
If the government had the first idea how precarious my leash on my power was, they’d either shoot me, or make me move to a shack in the middle of the desert. It might be better for everyone to exile myself, rather than put others at risk.
What little reading I got to do while wrestling with my thoughts was interrupted when Zach found me an hour or so later. “So, I got the job!”
Of course he did. I looked up, forcing a smile even though my armor made it impossible to see my any portion of my face. “I thought you would. So, what do they have you on?”
“Propwork!” Tina stepped up behind Zach. She was a big girl, in every sense of the word. Almost six foot tall, muscular for a woman, and with a few extra pounds on top of that. Big boned, round faced and blonde, she wore her bulk like a stereotypical viking opera singer, and was even attractive in her own way.
“His power’s awesome. Did you know he can restore things that were destroyed? Joe and I got so many ideas, like we can shatter a glass on stage, then have him teleport it away. Or even set things on fire! No cleanup, no danger, and we can even reuse the props!”
Zach smiled under the praise, then stumbled forward when Tina gave him a hard slap on the back. A moment later, he shimmered into nothing, replaced by a new copy standing behind Tina. It was a remarkable trick to say the least, and displayed a huge increase in skill compared to the early days a few months ago. Even in the final encounter with Kitten, he didn’t show such fine control.
“Boo!” He poked her rib when he shouted.
“Gah!” She jumped, then turned to face him. “Why do you always do that!?”
“Same reason you keep breaking my spine?” Complaining aside, Zach was almost laughing.
“Oh, right, because it’s hilarious.” Tina’s smile was as big as the rest of her. “Anyway, newbie, I’d better get back to work and pass around a few notes of what you can do, see who’s got ideas.” She turned and walked off, no doubt going back to find Joe. “There’s gotta be a play out there that needs a good window-smashing scene. Probably something by Tennessee Williams.”
“The people around here are great.” Zach reached up and rubbed the back of his neck.
I’ve been here for almost five years, and he’s already more comfortable than I have ever been. I bit down on that stupid, traitorous part of my own mind. “I take it you’re settling in well?”
He crouched down next to the wall, which put him in a position where he had to look up at me. “Yeah. I guess I got you to thank for that?”
Me? “No, I didn’t tell them to do anything. I mean, how could I have? I didn’t even know until you told me.”
“Yeah, but they know you,” he said. “Everywhere else, people find out I have powers and they act like I told them I never use toilet paper. Here, I’m nothing special. Another new guy getting the ‘you better not fuck up or we’ll fire you’ speech. It’s nice. So, yeah, thanks again for letting me do this. How can I ever thank you?” He smiled, far more grateful to me than I felt I deserved.
“It was nothing.” Less than nothing. “Do your job, that’s all.” He reminded me of when I was twelve years old and tried to hide this puppy I found from my parents. Which worked for about fifteen minutes, before they figured it out.
Dad was okay, but Mom shot that idea down and… I closed my eyes and willed myself to forget those memories, and the pain associated with them. Not here, not now, never again will I allow her to make me cry.
“So, hey, since they have nothing for me to do for the time being, I’m gonna get going. And then it’ll be a three day weekend.” Zach stood with the ease of an athlete. “I have to take care of that-which-shall-not-be-named.” He paused for a beat. “Man, that did not come out right.”
You can say that again. “That’s going to be the theme for the next couple months. It’s the slow season for us.” Not that there’s a huge amount of work to be had even during the busy times of year. “At least it gives you time to work out the school stuff.”
As much as Zach was my charity case, Mrs. Battle’s charity case was this whole theater; staying afloat was all this building had been doing for decades. When I came in, used my power to push this place into solvency, she turned around and hired more people, did more work that wasn’t profitable. Some people might have been upset by that, but it made me proud in a weird way; she did it for the love of the craft, and I helped.
“Hey,” I broke the awkward silence that was forming. “I’m gonna call Laura later, so we’ll see each other around.” It was the closest I’d come to admitting an association while at work.
“Yeah, see you,” Zach gave me one last look before making his way for the exit.
I attempted to read for another ten minutes or so, then gave up and made my way back up to my apartment. I went for my work phone, which had two more messages while I had still no calls to my personal phone; though given that Muwth used my personal phone, that may have been a blessing in disguise. I used my work phone to dial Laura’s number.
After a few rings, it clicked on. “Hey, uh, White Lady.”
She almost slipped up. I made a note that it might mean she wasn’t in a secure place, not that anywhere was secure. I’m becoming more like Muwth every day.
“So, I heard your brother is dropping out of school to get a job.” Flimsy as the excuse was, it was enough of a shield for most purposes. If nothing else, making it clear I didn’t want the association known would keep the media from running it as a story.
“Right, I just heard about that.” Laura sounded about as displeased as I’d have expected. “Remember when I said my brother was a fucking moron? Well, I take it back, and now I have to go find a fucking moron and apologize for the slander.”
There’s the reaction I expected. “Public identities are hard, and unless we were moved into bizarro-world, high school sucks.” Why am I defending Zach’s decision? This isn’t my place to get involved. “It might be the right call, and if your parents are okay with it, then-“
“My idiot parents are even bigger fuckups than my moron brother. The closest thing to a good decision they’ve ever made for their kids was not getting abortions! And sometimes I wonder about that!”
Put that on the list as one thing we have in common. I stayed silent, unsure what to say, what even could be said. I considered some words of kindness, but having had similar thoughts of my own, it would do nothing but make her feel worse. This was one of those situations where nothing was the best thing that I could offer.
Laura took a slow, steady breath. “Sorry. I… I’m sorry. Stressful week, and then this gets dropped in my fucking lap.” Another minute of silence. “So, the tutor thing, do you think it will work? We won’t be dealing with garbage?”
Hard to tell. “Well, I doubt they’ll be worse than the public schools.” I knew how little confidence they inspired. “A lot of it depends on the student, whether he applies himself. At least he won’t have to worry about gangs or horrible rumors while home schooled.” Not from students, at any rate. “And Anima will be able to keep an eye on him when he’s at work. She knows what she’s doing.”
The closest I could come to offering support while keeping up appearances.
“Thank you,” Laura said. “It’s good having people you can count on.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“So, umm, we were planning an op before the calls,” Laura said after a moment. “Do you want me to send Glen over to fill you in when we’re done?”
I considered it, but then dropped that idea for something better. “I think I’d like to sit in this time.Give me half an hour to get there, okay?” Anything beats spending another night here, in my home that is also my work, alone.
“Long as you don’t mind all of us cramped up in my apartment, then sure!”
“I’ll be there soon.” I looked at my large window as I flipped my phone closed. “Come to me, Valkyrie. Walk unseen.” The magnificent white pegasus-like steed and golden warrior-lady manifested right outside my window, invisible to all eyes but my own, and a handful of other Imbued.
“Gold Regalia, Eufron, dismissed.” I lost three inches of height created by the platforms in my armor, and all my flaws and imperfections spilled out for me to see in the mirror.
I need to work out more, and go on a diet. I wasn’t fat, not yet, but I could see room for improvement in every area, and the way I looked in my armor only served to remind me of everything I wasn’t as Beth rather than Anima.
“White Regalia, Velificatio.” Again, I stretched my arms out, but this armor didn’t bind me as it covered my every inch in robes that flowed like gossamer floating in a soft breeze. As far as armor went, this was one of the stranger options. It had no defensive properties of its own, but somehow it augmented my other summons, making them cleaner and clearer, sacrificing protection for power.
It took a bit of concentration to ensure the robes were full body; the default form of this summon would get me arrested for indecent exposure, assuming I didn’t die of hypothermia first. “Flamewreath.” Without fanfair, the rose gold colored ring formed around my finger, shielding me from heat and cold alike.
I opened my window and climbed onto the back of the Valkyrie’s horse, taking care not to slip and fall; my summons would save me, but in the process they might cause a lot of damage. “Deliver me to my destination.”
With a flap of wings that was showmanship alone, we were invisible and en route. Perhaps, if I beat Zach to the apartment, I could talk to Laura and Glen about his odd behavior.