Authors: Charles de Lint
Over My Head
Wildlings Book 2
Charles de Lint
Copyright 2013 by Charles de Lint
for welcomes and wonders
and wicked faeries, too
El sol sale para todos
(The sun rises for everybody.)
I'm on my Harley, riding down the Pacific Coast Highway to Tiki Bay tonight. It's just an inlet, pretty much hidden from the highway, though it's got a small dirt parking lot. You can find some of the local surfers there, early mornings, late afternoons. Sometimes they party on the beach.
I'm already planning to break a few heads if I find they've been messing with my boy Lenny. He didn't tell me much on the phone. It was just:
"I need help, man."
"Where you at?"
And then he hung up. Or got cut off.
The parking lot's empty when I pull in. I shut down my bike and put it on its stand. Then I walk over to the rail and look down at the beach. I don't see Lenny, but this tall dude I don't know is looking back up at me.
I don't need my Wildling radar to tell me something's not right. The guy on the sand, he's some old-school Wildling—I can feel it all the way up here—and they never come looking for you unless there's trouble.
See, there's two kinds of us shapechangers, though the world only knows about the kids who got changed here in Santa Feliz. They think it's only kids. What they don't know is that there have been Wildlings since before there were people, and they come in all shapes and sizes and ages. Call themselves cousins. And there's all kind of things I don't know about them—even someone like Auntie Min plays her cards close to her chest. I just know some of them are way older than anything else walking this world except maybe elephants and tortoises. And they're powerful. You just have to stand near one and the little
of recognition that you normally get from another Wildling ratchets up, right off the board.
The fact that I can feel this guy all the way up where I'm standing means he's maybe the oldest cousin I've met so far. An elder. In my limited experience with elders, I know just one thing: Nothing good's going to come out of meeting this guy.
I don't know what Lenny's got himself into, but I so don't need this. I'm still trying to play down my involvement with what happened to Josh a couple of weeks ago.
The trick to getting ahead in this world is staying off the radar so no one's paying attention to you. That means you avoid cops, news media, anything that's going to interfere with business. Riding cowboy's not the way to get that done.
Not like I'd ever turn my back on Lenny.
But I have a plan, see. Retire at twenty-five. Move to some Caribbean island. Kick back and enjoy life.
I was right on track, too, except the world keeps crapping on me.
Money isn't the problem. If I told you how much I have stashed away you'd call me a liar, but who cares? The money's still there and it's earning its keep. My money makes money. How're
Yeah, I deal drugs and I take bets. But don't cry to me about the poor kids whose lives I'm ruining. Nobody makes them buy dope or put their money down on some loser team that's never going to place. And why should I care about a bunch of suburban white kids who think wearing baggies and listening to rap makes them all gangsta?
Let them go a few days without food and all their little toys, with only jail time or a drive-by sitting in their future, and let's see how ghetto they really are.
Here's the three things you need to know about me:
First, I was always big for my age. By the time I was a teenager, I was the size of some big-ass wrestler. But you know, it's no different than a girl being born pretty. It's nothing I achieved on my own. It was just the draw of the cards.
Everybody's got things in their lives that they have no control over and I'm no different. It's not just my size. Or being Jason Washington's brother. He runs the Ocean Avenue Crips. Being J-Dog's brother gives me instant respect, but it's nothing I ever earned. I didn't choose to be born his brother, just like I didn't choose to become one of Santa Feliz's Wildlings, though I keep that one on the down low.
The second thing is, I don't take crap from anybody and I can back up those words. It's not just my size. That helps—no question—but everybody knows the Ocean Avers have my back. Though that comes with its own baggage.
The super-sized duffel bag stuffed to bursting with shit is my brother. J-Dog's crazy—no other way to put it. Comes from having been born a crack baby, I suppose. I don't know for sure, but it's as good a guess as any because, yeah, he's my brother, but the man's certifiable. Seriously. The only reason I didn't end up the same is Grandma put the fear of God into Momma when she was carrying me. No drugs. No booze. No turning tricks. The day after Momma put me in Grandma's arms, she went on a bender and died in some motel room of an overdose, probably with some guy's dick in her hand.
Grandma tried to keep J-Dog on the straight and narrow, but he's like a force of nature and there was nothing she could do with him. She tried with me, too, and I did a little better until I got jumped into the Ocean Avers. She was ready to take a belt to me that day, but what else was I supposed to do? Grandma couldn't look out for me on the street. I needed the other Avers to have my back.
Funny thing is, when I took the fall for J-Dog after he stole that car, she didn't give me any grief. She knew why I did it. J-Dog wasn't a kid anymore and I was only looking at juvie. He would've copped real jail time.
That's just the way we roll. Family sticks together. Ocean Avers stick together. J-Dog can put a crew of fifty on the street with one phone call, all armed to the teeth. So if I run into a problem I can't handle, I've got backup.
But I'm not much of a joiner. I've got a bunch of rules and J-Dog knows not to push me on them. I don't do strong-arm work and I keep mostly to myself. I don't party so much or throw my money around. I don't drink, I don't sample my own merchandise and I sure don't give a rat's ass about betting on some game. I've got a plan, remember? But somebody messes with the crew, I'll step up. The only place I draw a line is when the boys get bored and ride their choppers through Riverside Kings' territory. I figure if you go looking for trouble with the RKs, you deserve to get your ass kicked.
The third thing is, I try to keep the gang life and my Wildling side separate. I wouldn't ask Wildlings to help out the Ocean Avers and I'm sure as hell not going to involve the gang in any kind of Wildling business if I can help it. Sure, I needed the gang to ride backup through the RKs' territory when I went to help Josh a couple of weeks back, but they didn't know dick about what was really going on.
Usually the only place the gang and Wildlings come together is with Lenny Mount. Lenny grew up next door to Grandma's so I've pretty much known him my whole life. He's not the smartest kid you're ever going to meet—I don't think he ever fully recovered from being thrown down the stairs by one of his stepdads when he was just a rug rat—but he's got a good heart. We got jumped into the Ocean Avers at the same time, and ever since his brother got taken out in a drive-by, I consider it my job to look out for him. That got to be important when he became a Wildling.
Most of us change at a traumatic moment. Me, I was on a date with a cute Mexican girl. Aina Para. We had dinner at a burger joint on Ocean Avenue, then I took her to a movie. I wasn't wearing my colours, wasn't even thinking about the gang. I met Aina at the Harley Davidson store in the ValentiCorp complex, and she didn't know anything about who I was except that my name was Theo and she liked my bike.
We had a nice time. I dropped her off at home, then rode my chopper down to the beach. I was sitting on my bike seat, looking out over the ocean—wondering about this life I'm in, how I still had a good few years to put in before I'd be on that Caribbean beach—when I heard the sound of a low-rider pull into the parking lot behind me.
The rumble of its twin exhaust gave them away before I even turned around. Around here, only the Riverside Kings do that to their cars. When I did take a look, it was to see three of them walking toward me from a late-50s Chevy Impala. Low on the ground, custom paint job. Sweet ride. They were all decked out in gang colours—headband, scarf hanging from a back pocket, the front guy's hoodie. I didn't need to see the colours to know who they were. All three were sleeved-out and necklaced with gang tats. The front guy's hands were empty, but his buddies were carrying baseball bats.
," the lead guy said. "Nobody ever tell you to stay away from our chicas?"
It kind of pissed me off, how they'd ruined my mood, so I replied with one of the few bits of Spanish I knew: "¡
Chinga tu madre
The enraged look on his face made me smile. He charged, his buddies in tow. I pulled out the tire iron I keep in a holster by my gas tank because you never know, right? But before I could use it, before they could reach me, something truly weird happened. My clothes got huge and collapsed on top of me.
I heard the clatter of the tire iron as it hit the pavement. I heard something squeak as I burrowed out of my clothes. And then I had a real WTF moment. Everything was wrong. My clothes hadn't gotten big, I'd shrunk. That squeak I'd heard had come from me because I made it again.
I was a frigging mouse and any moment one of those gangbangers was going to stomp me. Except they weren't looking down. They were looking at something on the other side of my bike and I thought they were going to crap their pants. Then they took off. They ran across the parking lot to their car like a bunch of little girls, leaving behind strips of rubber on the pavement as they peeled away.
I heard footsteps, then this old woman was hunkered down looking at me. Indian, Mexican, I don't know.
"Hey, little cousin," she said. "You want to be a real boy, you'd better start thinking of yourself as one."
It didn't make sense and it did all at the same time.
I knew what I was—what I'd become. A Wildling. It made sense that you just had to think yourself from one shape to the other. So I imagined myself the way I looked in the mirror, and just like, that I was standing there in the parking lot, buck naked, towering over the old woman.
"Well now," she said as she stood up herself. "Aren't you a big boy."
"You have anything to do with this?" I said.
My hand opened and closed at my side, wanting the tire iron that was still on the ground. She didn't look like much, but I'd seen the faces of those Riverside Kings. I'd seen them run.
"What do you think?" she asked.
"I think you did something to scare the crap out of those bangers."
She didn't respond.
"So what did you do?" I asked.
"I showed them my real face. Now why don't you get dressed? That big old snake of yours is distracting me."
I laughed. I wasn't self-conscious—I couldn't care less about some old lady checking out my junk—but I did what she said because you never know when a cop is going to swing by on patrol. I'd never live it down if I got taken in for indecent exposure.
"Your real face, huh?" I said. "You going to show it to me?"
"You don't seem too perturbed about what's happened to you," the old lady said instead.
I shrugged. "I know who I am. Now I'm something else on top of it. It's not like I don't watch the news."
"You're an interesting boy," she said. "Do you want a few pointers about how to get by in your new life?"
"So you're the welcome wagon?"
"Hardly. I was just sitting there watching the tide and contemplating life when I heard the commotion and saw what happened. I know what you're going through. But maybe you don't care what an old lady's got to say. You wouldn't be the first. I won't be insulted if you just walk away right now." She waited a beat before she added, "Or we can talk."
"Show me what you've got," I told her.
That's how I met the old bag lady who calls herself Auntie Min. She says she's some kind of guardian spirit of Santa Feliz and I don't know about that. But she's got lots of mojo, no question. And she sure helped me through my first few days of being a Wildling.
Lenny Mount didn't have my luck.
His change happened when he was high as a kite, wandering along the side of the highway. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe he got too close to the cliffs and slipped. Maybe he decided he could fly. He never did explain.
But it turned out he
One moment he's just another kid, grew up in the Orchards like the rest of us ghetto kids. The next he's a seagull, riding the winds high above the shoreline where his clothes have fallen and the undertow's dragging them out to sea.
He was lucky. He could have changed back into a kid while he was still in the air. Instead he managed to land first. Whatever drugs he'd done had been washed from his system, so he knew enough to come looking for me, bare-assed and all.