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Authors: Nicola Rhodes

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy - Contemporary

Reality Bites (2 page)

BOOK: Reality Bites
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Denny sighed.  ‘I never fitted in with them.  My father was a great big bloke, a real man’s man. And my brother was the same;
is
the same.  I take after my mother. Physically, I mean. So you see, I didn’t match up to either of their ideas of what a man should be like.  My mother was worse than my dad.  She admired big strapping blokes; that’s why she married one I suppose.  And my dad wanted a son to take after him.  Miles, my brother,
was
that son.  I was just a disappointment to them both, and they never bothered to hide it.

Tamar was shocked.  ‘But, didn’t they – didn’t they… love you?’


Love
me?’  Denny snorted.  ‘Ha, some people don’t know they’re born.’

Tamar could only stare in silent sympathy.  This explained so much, so much.

‘Miles was okay when we were small, but now, he’s an even bigger git than my father was,’ Denny told her.

‘Where is he now?’

‘I don’t know, and I don’t care.’

‘Why, “pretty boy”?’  This remark had been puzzling Tamar.  Denny was pale and thin and scruffy. He looked like a drug addict. The last thing you would call him was pretty.

‘What?’

‘Why would your father call you a pretty boy?  I mean, you’re not exactly ugly but…’

Denny gave a wan smile.  ‘He just thought it was an insult, because I had long hair and looked like my mother. I think he just thought it was another way to call someone a “pansy” or a “big girl’s blouse”, that sort of thing.’

‘Hmm.’ Tamar was not so sure.  She looked at Denny, really looked at him for once, and tried to imagine what he must have looked like ten years ago. Before he stopped shaving, before he even needed to shave, and didn’t.  And perhaps with a little more colour in his face.  He had good cheekbones she noticed, surveying him critically, and his mouth although not full was even and well proportioned, straight nose and teeth and gentle blue eyes.  And his hair would be quite a bright, almost white blond, if it were cleaner.

  He was not classically handsome, but still… if he were not so … and if he had a decent haircut. Well, she could see it now. He
would
be kind of pretty in an unconventional way. Funny that she had never observed it before.  She decided not to mention it. Obviously, he did not want to be – had been convinced by his upbringing that it was unmanly, and, therefore, went out of his way to look as shabby and unimpressive as he possibly could.  He had done this so successfully that she had known him for more than a year and had never detected it.

He looked sulky now; his face was pinched and his expression stony.  Evidently, he did not like talking about his experiences in a world that had not wanted him.

‘I’m going back to bed,’ he mumbled, ‘see you later.’  And he sloped off without another word.

Tamar watched him, aching with pity and love.  If only she could go to him and comfort him, but it was impossible.  Tamar’s powers were too overwhelming for a mortal to handle close contact with her for long.  Even a hug was out of the question; unless she wanted to risk killing him.

She waited a few minutes and then went out again.

 

 

~ Chapter Three ~

 

T
he hooded figure was watching from the rooftop opposite. Hood pulled up, melting into the shadows, invisible as people came out of the building below. 
Aha, there, that must be him.
Not quite what the watcher had been expecting; older, perhaps mid-forties, and maybe wiser.  He looked like a good man, and he evidently commanded a certain respect.  The watcher was impressed.

The man turned up a side street and the watcher hesitated. Was it the right man? 

Somebody called out to him. ‘Goodnight Mr. Stiles.’ 
Ah
. The watcher slid silently off the roof and followed the man home.

* * *

Denny and Tamar were out patrolling the streets together. The streets of Perth, as it happened.  It was late, around 2 a.m. and very quiet – suspiciously so. 

‘Do you think we should move?’ said Denny suddenly,
apropos
of nothing.

‘Yeah, there’s nothing much going on here tonight is there?  What about New York? That’s usually busy.’

‘Actually, I meant move home. Get a house or something.’ 

‘Why?’ said Tamar.  ‘We can be anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye – what does it matter where we’re based?’

They were still living in Denny’s grotty flat, stylishly transformed by Tamar  into a large warehouse conversion and now boasting a training room (for Denny’s inconvenience) with a tasteful collection of bladed weapons, which Denny was becoming, if not adept, then at least competent at using.  It looked like the Batcave after a trip to Ikea.

‘I just think I’d like to live in a house.  I’d like a garden.’

‘Why, what for?’

‘I’d just like one. I’ve never had one. I was brought up in a council flat, and then I lived here.  I always wanted a garden – and if the world
is
going to end …’

‘It’s not.’

‘Isn’t it? It’s got to end some day and my dream …’

‘Oh for God’s sake! That’s such typical human thinking – the Apocalypse myth!  Why do people need to have such dramatic explanations for everything?’

‘What are you talking about now?’ asked Denny, thinking she was going off at a tangent.

‘Just what I say. Take the dinosaurs; it must have been a meteor hit you say?  But there’s no evidence of it; it’s far more likely that they just died out naturally.  The fossil record suggests it.’

‘What’s that got to do with anything? And what would you know about fossils?’

‘I’m getting to it. It’s human nature to seek the most dramatic explanation everything’s got to be a big deal.  So you envision a terrible apocalypse “The end of the world” and write a prophecy about it. The fact is, that when and
if
humanity comes to an end it’ll happen gradually, and you’ll probably bring it on yourselves.’

‘World War III you mean?’

‘No!
Y
ou see, there you go again – drama! Here we are in the middle of a fertility crisis brought on most likely by our pollution of the planet, we’re destroying the Eco-system, disrupting the food chain that we rely on; disease is rife.  I could go on, and yet the first thing that comes to your mind is a bloody big explosion that’ll wipe us all out in one go.’

‘What was your point again?’

‘Just that the Apocalypse – Armageddon whatever you want to call it, isn’t going to happen.  Things just don’t happen like that.  Humans just
think
they do.’

‘I only said I wanted a garden.’

Tamar sighed.  ‘You did, didn’t you? Okay then.’

There was a thin scream from somewhere up ahead.

‘Later,’ said Denny. ‘Come on Batman.’  They ran.

Up ahead three men were dragging a struggling girl along the street.  Although they were doing this quite openly, nobody was doing a thing to intervene.

Denny and Tamar stopped short in some confusion. Was it an arrest? Were these actually plain clothes policemen … jeering and shouting obscenities while trying to herd her toward a ratty looking old van? Er – no then.

Now, Tamar had some fairly strong opinions about men who attacked women – that death was too good for them – but it would have to do.

(Her opinions on people who stood by gaping while men attacked women are unprintable.)

It was these very people who were causing her main problem.  Her usual approach in these situations would be to – well, she had a variety of approaches, but they all involved using magic, and in front of all these witnesses, a display of that kind of power would be, to put it mildly, inadvisable.

She looked at Denny in a panic. ‘What do I do?’

Denny shrugged. ‘What does it matter? They’ll never believe it afterwards anyway. Isn’t that what you always say?’

‘There’s too many of them.’ 

A fundamental problem of the theory that people always just believe what they want to believe, and only ever see what they want to see, and then just generally rewrite events in their head afterwards, was that it tended not to work when a large group of people all saw the same thing. They still did it of course, and all in their own way. So that, what you ended up with was a large group of people all arguing about what they actually saw, but at least all agreeing that they saw
something
.  And then selling their story to the papers, so that an even larger group of people could argue, sometimes on national television, about what a large group of people saw. 

It’s much harder to convince yourself that it was just a weather balloon, when half a dozen other people saw the aliens playing the world’s largest synthesiser and are arguing about the tune.*

*[
The world has, in fact, been invaded by aliens seven times. Government conspiracies, ha!  Governments are amateurs.  It’s much bigger than that.
]

This was an exposure risk that was just too large to take.  Humans
en masse
, are just not ready to know about “virtual reality”.

The men were almost to their van. One of them had split off and was opening the back. Tamar still hesitated.

Denny let out a snarl of impatience and ran forward to confront the men.

 

Tamar was wringing her hands in panic. Denny was, not to put too fine a point on it, getting the περιττώματα beaten out of him. And one of the men still had hold of the girl.

Tamar looked up at the sky for inspiration.  The moon came out from behind a cloud, a full moon. It gave Tamar an idea.

The fight stopped abruptly as she let out an unearthly blood curdling howl that shattered several nearby shop windows. Every head turned; Tamar concentrated and lengthened her ears and teeth. Her eyes glowed yellow in the street light.

She let out another howl.  She was beginning to enjoy herself.  She decided to really let herself go.  She let out another shattering howl and fell forward onto her hands, shaking her head from side to side, like a maddened bull.  Then she snarled.  Her shoulders grew and lifted into haunches and her entire body mass trebled.  All this time, of course, she was growing hair all over her body and face. She looked totally fearsome.

The entire street was, by now, frozen in a horrified tableau – Denny included. They looked as if they would never move again.

Tamar gave one last howl and bounded forward toward Denny.  The men shrieked and ran. Denny did not even flinch. He turned to the terrified girl.  ‘Run, I would,’ he told her. Then he realised she was going to faint. ‘That’s enough Tamar,’ he said sharply. 

Tamar whisked round like a dog and charged a small group of onlookers (they deserved it, she felt).  That was enough for most of them; they scattered,
like cockroaches
, she thought, and screaming like banshees.

The girl fainted gracefully into Denny’s waiting arms. It had been a long night; she was probably tired.

* * *

‘What the bloody
hell
was that?’  Denny exploded when they got home after depositing the unconscious girl at the nearest outpatients.

‘What?’

‘What do you mean
what
?  You turned into a bloody
werewolf
.’

‘Not
really
, it was just a glamour.’

‘I don’t give a rat’s danglies. If you were going to use magic anyway, couldn’t you have been a bit more subtle?’

‘The thing is…’

‘I mean for God’s sake, Tamar, people
saw
you,’ he raged. ‘You might as well have just flown over their heads.’

‘No, I couldn’t have done that.’

‘What’s the difference?’

‘Well, for one thing, people can’t fly…’

‘People don’t turn into werewolves either.’

‘Oh yes they do.’

‘I mean for …
what
?’ Denny skidded in mid-fury.

‘It’s true.  Werewolves are real. Okay, so it’s not usual, I admit, but I couldn’t think of anything else that wouldn’t expose me for what I really am.  I mean when I saw the full moon, it was like a gift.’

‘If you say so.’

‘You’re still angry aren’t you?’

‘No.’

‘Yes you are.  I know what’ll cheer you up.’

‘What are you doing?’

She clapped her hands and then opened a door that had not been there before.  Through the door was a beautiful garden.  It had a pond, fir trees surrounded it, there was a maze somewhere in the distance and the lawns were “Bowling Green” perfect, bordered by a riot of beautiful flowers – unusual in November.

Denny pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, reminding Tamar of a look her mother used to give her.

‘I meant a
real
garden, at the back of a
real
house, with weeds and insects.’

‘Ingrate! Okay, we’ll look for somewhere.  In the meantime,’ she gestured to the garden, now slightly more untidy and jungly, ‘try it out.’

‘Um, can I have weeping willows?’

‘No sooner said than done.  Well I’m going out.’

‘Again?’

‘I won’t be long.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘Same as usual.’

‘Oh, right, need any help?’

‘Not this time, anyway aren’t you due at work?’

‘I hate Monday morning.’

‘So give up your job. It’s not like you need it anymore.’

They had had this discussion before.  Denny refused to give up his mouldy job on the grounds that it would be immoral to live on magic.  Tamar, who had lived in a bottle for thousands of years, thought he was insane.  He wasn’t an ordinary person any more, she said.  He was a champion of the weak and oppressed now. Ordinary rules did not apply, besides he had no apparent objections to living in a magically transformed home or travelling by teleportation.  That was different, he said.  But she couldn’t help feeling that hanging on to his job was just an excuse to get away from her sometimes.  It probably was.  Some men have a shed, Denny had a record store, and like a shed, Denny only went there when he really had to.  Bo, the manager, never noticed when Denny did not turn up for weeks at a time.  As long as he made sure that he was there for stock takes and pay-day, he had that job for life.

BOOK: Reality Bites
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