Epic Dinner Conversation
by E. Kimball
E. Kimball has nothing to promote, he just likes telling silly stories. A few have even been published! But if you’d like an up-to-date list of his other works, you can visit TheEKimball.com
It was time. All the preparations had been completed, and the places for each party properly prepared. Yet, the boy was missing. That was unacceptable. Something needed to be done. And, as always, it was my role to do it. I’d never failed to act when the situation demanded it, this time would not be the first.
Opening the back door, I yelled, “Eloy Reyes! Dinner time!”
“In a minute!” Eloy yelled back from his favorite lounging spot under the decorative orchid tree.
Much to my displeasure, I saw that his so-called friend, Luke Boone, was there too. The little hooligan in training no doubt being the negative influence that came so naturally to him. At the sound of my voice, the two of them displayed identical expressions of guilt. That was worrying. Almost as worrying as my dinner getting cold on the table.
Almost as worrying, but not quite. “No. Not in a minute. Now!”
The boy looked at Luke, Luke looked at me, then Luke slid between the slats of the back yard fence to flee the scene. With a glare in my direction, as if I was responsible for the fair-weather nature of his friend, Eloy shoved something into his denim backpack and said the word, “Fine,” as if it was a dark curse. His foul mood persisting as he shuffled into the kitchen to bonelessly flop into his chair at the table, the backpack landing on the floor next to him.
Mary, on the other hand, was in one of her immoderately boisterous temperaments, making a very unmotherly show of twirling in a too short tie-dye sundress as she served the food.
“Tuna noodle for my two-nah favorite men,” she said as she placed basil decorated plates of casserole before us. With one last spin onto my lap, she kissed me on the cheek, using the moment of closeness to whisper, “Talk to him, Clay. It’s your role as the father.”
And she was right, it was my role. A role I’d been floundering in since the boy passed his first decade. It used to be so simple, so concrete. But the turbulent emotional waters of the early teens were proving to be a bit beyond my element.
“Hey there, sport,” I said. “What’s weighing down that noggin of yours?”
“Nothing,” he grunted.
“Ah, honey bunny,” Mary said, touching the boy’s hand. “You can tell us.”
The boy jerked away with a harsh laugh. “Yeah, right. I can tell you. Because we tell each other everything, don’t we?”
He pulled out the object he’d stuffed in his backpack earlier, and, this time, I recognized it. It was the rune sealed dragon-hide scroll I’d written to guide him once things were in motion.
“Like,” he said, punctuating his words with small exhalations of betrayal. “If I was a lost prince from some beyond-the-veil place, whatever that means, and you weren’t my real parents, but magic things pretending to be my mom and dad. You’d tell me that, right? Especially if my aunt, who’s also a monster, named Bella Damned, which, subtle by the way, wants to kill me because some wizard lady said she couldn’t. That’d be something we’d share, right?”
The silence that followed amplified every clock click and floor creek in the kitchen to near deafening volume. He shouldn’t have found the scroll nor been able to open it. Not while I lived. But the reason the scroll was now open for the boy to read, was the same reason I hadn’t initially recognized it. Whatever Eloy, and no doubt his friend Luke, had done to the scroll had reduced the nearly indestructible dragon hide to a tattered singed fragment of its previously regal state.
In the Realm, no one would beat on a rune seal until it buckled under the force of their sheer bloody mindedness. But, as I was too often reminded, this wasn’t the Realm. These were the mortal lands that ran by the crude caveman logic of its inhabitants. Where, if hitting something with a rock didn’t work, that just meant you had to get a bigger rock.
“Thank the soul of the sun!” Mary exclaimed, breaking the silence as she let her outer skin drop, filling the kitchen with the misty serpentine features and iridescent shroud of her true form.
“You know you’re not allowed in my study, pal,” I said, focusing on Eloy, instead of Mary flitting about the house like, what she was, a newly freed chaos spirit.
The boy looked to Mary, then back to me. “Are you serious?”
I felt the penetrating chill of Mary’s true form as she coiled around me. “Sadly, he is. Always.”
“Rules are rules,” I said. “Nothing has changed,”
“Nothing has changed? Mom just literally changed into a lizard-butterfly-smoke thing and– Wait. What do you really look like, dad?”
Mary slipped from me to encircle the boy.
“That’s his true form,” she cooed into his ear. “The boring form sculpted by the boring hand of the boring Quintessence herself.”
“Sculpted?” Eloy asked, shivering from Mary’s touch, but not shying away from it. “So, your name isn’t actually ‘Clay,’ you just, are, clay? Like a golem or something?”
“We’re not Jewish,” I said.
“I didn’t mean– Wait. What actually are we? I mean we’ve never gone to church or anything. I thought we were like atheists or something. But we can’t be that if we’re literally magic. Can we?”
“Our religion is allowing lesser beings the awe of worshiping us,” Mary said.
The boy gave Mary a sour grin. “Oh. So, we’re practicing assholes.”
“I can tell you what you are, young man,” I said. “Grounded for the next week.”
“What! Why?” Eloy said.
“Why?” Mary said with a giggle as she released the boy to swirl about the room. “For swearing, going where you shouldn’t, taking what’s not yet yours, and being generally naughty. Normally, I’d approve, but as the pottery says, rules are rules.”
“That’s not fair. Why am I being punished? You’re the ones who lied!”
“For the attitude, that’s why,” I said. “And it’s not only fair, it’s now two weeks. Would you like to go for a third?”
The boy opened his mouth, closed it, and then began to violently stab at the casserole on his plate. After a moment of more murdering his food than eating it, he looked up, his features twitching with nervousness.
“Do you have to be my parents? I mean, like, are you forced to be?” He asked, gesturing to the scroll. “Because, you said that mom or, I mean, A Sliding Shadow Among Marigold Fields, is that right? You said she’s bound to me. Is being bound like slavery?”
The darkest aspect of Mary’s presence manifested, focusing its hateful lightning storm eyes on me. “You revealed my true name! You wrote it down! You dared! I will– I will…”
For a moment, Mary glanced at Eloy. When she looked back it wasn’t the iridescent orbs of nature’s fury that glared at me, but her more mundane, yet equally powerful, hazel brown human eyes. As she glared, her ever-spiraling mist focused around those eyes, condensing back down into her skin. Then, with a sigh, she turned to face the boy.
“All parents are bound to their children by forces stronger than true names. True names, I might add, that should never be revealed under any circumstances, particularly not by self-important sentient arts-and-crafts projects. But the impending horrific death of your father is not the point here. I suppose one could say I felt like a slave when all you did was poop and wail. But that was long ago, before we truly met. Bound? Definitely. But enslaved? No. No, Eloy, I’m not bound to you by magic, but by the more powerful force of you being you.”
The boy smiled with innocent joy, before dropping into the furrowed brows of attempted maturity. “I want a gun.”
It took a moment for me to follow the sudden change in logic, and I wasn’t happy when I did.
“No,” I said.
“Why not!” Eloy said, his play at adulthood instantly dropped for a petulant whine.
“So? Luke Boone’s father takes him out to the shooting range every other Sunday and he’s three months younger than me. Also, he’s not a chosen-one magic prince being hunted by an evil monster-aunt that wants to ‘gorge upon his heart.’”
“Guns are not our way. I’ll teach you the blade, when you’re ready.”
“Perhaps he is, ready,” Mary said. She had just a hint of chaotic mischief at the corners of her mortal smile.
I looked at the boy. There was a determination in him, a tightness of the jaw, a strength in his clenched hands. It wasn’t new, but it was more focused, more directed.
“Perhaps. Perhaps you are, sport.”
“I don’t care if I’m ready for a dumb sword. I don’t want a sword. I want a gun. A really big gun with, like, exploding bullets and stuff.”
“They are not our way. There’s no poetry in such mortal technology, no destiny.”
“That’s the point!” Eloy said, slamming the table with his clenched fists. “I don’t want destiny. I don’t want to fight fair. I want to cheat, a lot.”
The boy looked down at his hands and when he spoke again it was only a whisper. “I don’t want you to die.”
Mary slid an arm around him in a way that was not quite human, but very motherly. “We’re not dead, honey.”
The boy struggled with his words, tears clouding his eyes. “But you will be. You have to be, for me, for my destiny. That’s what the scroll said. The first sentence says, ‘If you’re reading this, we’re dead.’”
“Yes… Ahem…” I said, clearing my throat as I tried to think of what to say. I’d expected to be far less alive than I currently was, when this topic came up. “About that… Well, you see, prophecies require sacrifice, and you see… you see that…”
I found my words failed me as I watched the boy’s eyes go from watery grief to polished rage.
“I’m going to Luke’s,” he said, pushing himself out of Mary’s arms and stomping out of the kitchen. “I bet Mr. Boone will let me shoot eldritch horrors in the face. He’s nice like that.”
“You’re still grounded, young man!” I yelled after him.
“You’re not my real parents. You can’t tell me what to do,” he said, slamming the front door.
As I watched the boy’s blurry image run off through the door’s stained-glass window, I felt Mary’s warm human hand touch my shoulder. “I’ll call Jessica Boone and tell her to expect an impromptu sleepover.”
I looked at her. She still wore the pear-shaped human body that had been her cage.
“Why are you still here?”
“I’m not going after him. Let the child have his little rebellion. Rebellions are good for him.”
“That’s not what I’m asking, and you know it. You’ve made it clear that the terms of your binding have been fulfilled.”
Mary squeezed the base of her throat, and when she spoke it was in the echoing tones of the Quintessence. “You shall serve the last scion until the time doth come when he may claim his birthright as lord of the Realm.”
Then, wiggling her hand back and forth and coughing twice to restore her normal singsong tones, she said, “Well, he claimed it. And then discarded it. But a returned destiny still counts as a claimed one, as long as you have your receipt.”
“If it counts, if you are freed, why aren’t you using that freedom?”
Mary’s smile widened beyond the confines of human biology. “Well, that’s the thing about freedom, isn’t it? If one is free to be anywhere, then one is also bound to be somewhere. And I find here very interesting.”
I considered here, this land. A land with no order, no poetry. A place where things happened because they could, not because they should. There was a beauty in its ugly chaos, a justice in its universal unfairness. And growing up in this unordered land Eloy had become something unexpected.
“I can see why you find the boy interesting,” I said.
Mary loosened her form a bit more to coil around me. “Not just the child. Tell me construct, why give Eloy my true name if we’re both fated to die at the frost spiked hands of Autumn’s Daughter?
“Because you’re the Sliding Shadow. You’d find a loophole. Particularly in this mortal land, a chainmail of a realm forged out of nothing but interconnected loopholes.”
Mary rubbed her cheek against mine. “And you expected me to get overconfident, let my guard down, allowing the child to bind me anew.”
“If, you got overconfident. If, you betrayed him. If you did those things, I wanted to prepare the boy for it. But I did not expect it. You are many things Mary, but never predictable.”
Mary’s eyes had turned serpentine as she nuzzled my face. “That’s sweet, and devious. I’ve never heard tell of a devious construct, more or less a sweet one, and yet here you are. I find that interesting. I find, you, very interesting,”
Then she kissed me for the first time on the lips with the electric passion of an unleashed storm.
“Eeeew!” Yelled the three children gathered around Clay Reyes’ feet.
“Stop being gross grandpa!” added Manuel, the eldest of the three.
“A story with out passion isn’t a story,” Clay said, leaning back in his recliner by the fireplace, letting the warmth soak into his terracotta bones. “When you tell a story you must follow the old ways. For all stories are of the Realm. Don’t blame me for what must be.”
“So, what happened?” asked Abagail, the middle child. “Why isn’t dad a king and us princesses?”
“I’m not a princess,” grumbled Manuel.
“You can be the court jester,” Abagail said sticking out her tongue at Manuel. “But why didn’t you go back to the Realm, with all the magic?”
“Because,” Eloy Reyes yelled from the kitchen where he was carving up the thanksgiving turkey with an electric knife. “I like central plumbing, penicillin, and democratically elected leadership. Magical lands can take care of themselves. They always do in the stories. And as dad constantly likes to remind us, ‘Stories are of the Realm.’”
“So, the bad guy won?” ask Patricia, the youngest. “Bella Damned got what she wanted?”
“No,” said Clay. “When your father discovered his destiny the weaves that had kept us hidden were undone. Bella came for your father that night. Unfortunately for Bella, your father was with the Boones. And Curt Boone owned a whole lot of guns. He had a lot of guns and a willingness to believe in monsters. That, or just a willingness to shoot anyone who came onto his property putting on airs. Curt always claimed it was the first one, but I have my suspicions.”
There was silence as the children waited for the rest of the story. When they realized there was nothing more to come, Patricia climbed up into her grandfather’s lap, fixed him with the most serious expression a six-year-old could manage and said, “That’s a dumb ending, grandpa.”
“No,” Clay said. “It’s a happy ending that lacks poetry or the balance of fate. It’s also not an ending. Because that’s the way of things in the mortal lands. Things just happen, and there are no endings, only moments.”
Clay gave his youngest granddaughter a hug before lifting her off his knee. “And I’d say this one is rather nice. Now go help grandma set the table.”
Manuel and Patricia scurried off, unleashing havoc in the kitchen that Clay knew would both annoy and amuse Mary. But Abagail stayed, fixing Clay with a single raised eyebrow.
“I don’t believe evil would be dissuaded by a mere bullet.”
Clay returned the girl’s suspicious gaze. There was much of the Realm in her. Perhaps too much. Perhaps just enough.
Picking up a homemade paperweight from the end table, Clay said, “A mere bullet? No, you’re right. A bullet would not dissuade Autumn’s Daughter.”
Clay held the paperweight up to the light, illuminating the black object suspended within its clear epoxy. An object that, from some angles, looked like a lump of iridescent coal. And, from others, looked like the slowly beating heart of Bella Damned, Autumn’s Daughter.
“But several hundred bullets fired in rapid succession did come together to form a rather convincing argument.”
Clay noted a couple of small cracks in the paperweight and made a mental note to get his tool kit out later to fill them in.
“It’s true, there’s no mortal way to change one’s destiny, no matter the size of the rock you bash it with. In the Realm, there is a saying, ‘prophecies cannot be averted, only delayed.’ That’s the reason they give us to accept our fates, to play our roles. But there’s a flaw in that logic that only mortals can see.”
Abigail bit her lip for a moment before saying, “Because if you delay something forever, it never happens?”
Clay smiled. “Exactly.”