Monday, February 18, 2013

I started a new novel -- about Magical Hoboe Orphans. 

"Like to hear it?  Here it go."--as they used to say on "In Living Color."


            The King of the Hoboes wielded a shadow army.  The Queen of the Harpies had an opposing army, locked in endless stalemate—like two sides of a chess-board of Whack-a-moles.  Whenever a soldier was struck down, another rose to take his place.
            And neither side could lose a pawn without the Scarecrow-to-the-Aliens noticing.  Although the fighting took place—not just in cover of darkness, but—in the Unseen World, she felt the ripple effects.
            In an alleyway between two bowling alleys, a double-agent (carrying a message) was accosted by two Harpies.  He almost had a hard time, keeping the two sides straight—what he’d told or done for both, but he knew he was outnumbered.
            The lead, a female Succubus, said “How do you sleep at night, Slicker, being a double-agent?”
            The other, the muscle Incubus, said “Yeah.  Seems like you’d get zero shut-eye, pulling two shifts.”
            “It’s not like that,” Slicker tried to explain (but his heart wasn’t in it—he knew it was over).  “Maybe I’m a triple agent.”
            “I don’t think so,” said the Incubus (appropriately named Blockhead).
            “Have to save time somewhere, by not shining your shoes, I guess.  Start cutting corners…”  The lady Maleficent was leaning against a wall, eyeing her fingernails.
            Slicker was trying to think quickly.  He had a suicide capsule in his right hand, but couldn’t conceive what to do with the message.  He’d forgotten the standard-issue self-destruct attachment.  He really had been cutting corners.
             “I’ll be taking that,” said Blockhead.  “Suicide’s too good for you.”  He smashed Slicker’s head through the wall.  (Slicker truly saw birds circling his head.)  Then pulled him back, kicked the hole bigger, then threw Slicker’s whole body through it.  They followed after.
            Maleficent took a deep breath.  “I love the smell of fresh bowling alley,” she said.  Leaned over and grabbed Slicker’s hat.  She knew right where to look, hidden behind the band.  (He usually had a fake flower there—an explosive device—but not tonight.)  She started reading it right in front of him.  That seemed like a fate worse than death for Slicker. 
            It took her two seconds to crack the code.  “A-ha.  The Buddhist temple.  Why didn’t I think of that?  An excellent hiding place.”  She relayed the information to her walkie-talkie.  “Then…I guess you’ve out-lived your usefulness.”
            “Maybe you need to take your medicine after all.”  Blockhead stuffed the capsule in his mouth.  Then tossed him down the lane.  “A perfect strike.”  And turned to leave.
             “Maybe not,” said Maleficent, pausing.  Maybe he’d managed to spit out the capsule, and was still struggling to his feet.  (He should’ve pretended to be dead.)
            “I’ve gotta warn them,” he was thinking, although he could hardly think, for the pain.  He realized he wasn’t bleeding.  Where there should have been cuts and bruises looked almost corroded, rusted over—a bluish white marble—and that’s how he knew he was done for.  “I’m just a cartoon,” he thinks (and pictures himself playing a harp on a cloud).
            “There’s one pin-head left standing,” said Maleficent.  “A seven-ten split.”  She plucked up a bowling ball.  Held it in her hands for a moment, like a cannon-ball.  Kissed it.  Then, it might as well have been a pumpkin—finding its way to its new owner: a headless horseman.
            The Scarecrow-to-the-Aliens almost couldn’t watch.           
            She saw the scene exactly as it happened, but if you were watching her…it looked like she was strolling, entranced, through the Butterfly Pavilion.  But it was really an armillary sphere, scale model of her known universe.  The butterflies didn’t represent every human alive: just the ones she has to keep an eye on—Hoboe and Harpy agents.
            They wheel around her, bob and weave, in some choreography, held up by strings or clockwork gears (only she can decipher).  She is not exactly the puppet-master, but is at the center—like the sun.  The butterfly model of Slicker alights on her fingertip and ignites, then burns out.  She sighs, but is more troubled than that. 
            What really worries her is the infestation of moths, almost indistinguishable from butterflies.  She doesn’t know where they came from—overturning the balance of a two-sided chess-board into Chinese checkers—but is dying to find out, before the world implodes.
            She has one hope.  The Scarecrow-to-the-Aliens removes from her pocket two new paper-doll cut-outs.  She drew them herself: one for Felix Cube and one for Cameo (like voodoo dolls).  She folds them in half, together—then releases them into the wild, whispering “Godspeed.”  The paper, making contact with air, instantly blends into butterfly wings.  She watches their progress until it takes too much effort.  She loses them in the swarm.

Chapter 1: Introductions

            Felix Cube was born and raised in the Home for Magical Hoboe Orphans.
            There, they are told: “You were not abandoned for lack of love.  And your parents are not run-of-the-mill poor and destitute.  They have sacrificed themselves to lives and deaths of danger, fighting both real and allegorical monsters, keeping the world safe for truth, justice, and you.”
            Still, this seemed to Felix like small consolation.  He felt a loneliness he could not describe (you’d need a foreign word like ennui or saudade, that he didn’t know)—until he crossed paths with Cameo Rothschild.
            She was laid in a bed next to his, her first night.  She leaned over and whispered to Felix: “I don’t belong here, you know.  My mother is not a Magical Hoboe.”
            “Okay,” he whispered back (only pretending to sleep).
            “She is the archangel Ariel.  And that is the gift she bestowed upon me: that I can see things as they truly are.
            That was half the fun of being a Magical Hoboe Orphan: you had to figure out your own talents and gifts, bestowed upon you as a fated birthright.
            “Like this ceiling,” said Cameo, for example.  “It isn’t made out of wood and darkness, but stained glass.  Like the Sistine Chapel.”  (She didn’t know everything.)  “Can you see it?—a scene of my mother driven into the wilderness, chased by the six-headed dragon!”
            Felix Cube’s talent—what he’d figured out so far: was that he could draw really well.  (Before Cameo got there, the highest he could dream was being a police sketch artist.)  The next day, with permission from the Magistrate, he painted the scene as Cameo described it.
            That is how they became fast friends—and more than that.  Their fates were intertwined and sealed.  Also, when it wasn’t dark, Felix could see two things: that Cameo was bed-ridden (paralyzed or something), and always wore a ballerina outfit, complete with tutu.  “Why do you always wear that?” he asked her—the more polite of two questions he could think of.
            But she was not ready to talk about that yet.  “You have to wear something,” she said, “or you’d be naked.  Plus: as a disguise.” 
            Then, she said—turning to the other ten children (the crowd gathered around): “And to answer your question: this is my blessing and curse.  If it were not so, that I was weighted down…”—she pulled up her sheets, to reveal some ankle bracelets—“and stuck in this bed, nothing would stop me from floating away.”
Chapter 2: Tea  Parties

            In the old days, Felix Cube would spend his mornings painting a portrait of the Magistrate, Rudolph.  These portraits lined the hallway leading to his office.
            “There are few professions more noble than that of police sketch artist,” Rudolph would say.  “You are instrumental in catching the criminal…without getting your hands dirty—with blood.  I’ve seen enough blood for all of us.  Sure, a little charcoal, maybe…”
            So, it threw off Rudolph’s schedule, made him a little sad—when Cameo appeared on the scene.  But he understood.
            Felix Cube would carry Cameo outside for a picnic or tea party, under the lilac trees.  Rudolph would watch and say “Be careful with her.” 
            Grimace carried out her whole bed, to lay her in.  He wanted to carry Cameo herself because he was the strongest, and almost a giant, at seven feet tall—though only fifteen.  But Cameo was light as a feather, so Felix could do it.
            Felix and Cameo weren’t alone, at their tea parties.  Cameo was like a magnet, for the other children. 
            The two twins especially fell in love with her—became like her ladies-in-waiting.  They looked like miniature Marilyn Monroe’s, at eight years old, with platinum blonde hair, but were named Hop and Scotch.  The interesting thing about them was: they never showed emotion—until Cameo came.
            The thing they liked to do best was wiggle Cameo’s toes and say stuff like:

            “This alligator was a monster.
            This alligator played nice.
            This alligator breathed fire.
            This alligator breathed ice.
            This alligator was kicked out of paradise.”

            Part of her magnetism was Cameo Rothschild told them all stories (like a Wendy to the Lost Boys).  She’d seen more of the outside world, not being cooped up in a home-for-orphans all her life.
            It was understood, that when you turned sixteen, you left the home and were apprenticed to the King of the Hoboes.  “But it’s not an apprenticeship,” Cameo told them.  “It’s like being sold into slavery—or to gypsies.”
            “How awful,” said Hop.
            “And do you know what you really do?” Cameo asked.  Of course, you made use of your talents, somehow—they knew that.  “They make you fight each other.  Like cock-fights or dog-fights!  Or mixed martial arts.”
            The Magistrate, Rudolph, was a noble man, but he wasn’t above eavesdropping.  Unless he had a weakness for tea—or was drawn to Cameo like a magnet, too.  “Hm,” he only said to himself.  Stroked his chin.  And made a lot of phone-calls.

Chapter 3: What  They  Are  Up  Against

            During one of their picnics—Felix was painting Cameo in a pose and costume of Cleopatra—Cameo Rothschild whispered to her four new friends: “This is all very nice.  I’m not making fun of your company, or the quality of tea.  But we have to get out of here.  We gotta get to the Museum of Supernatural History.”  (It was normally called The Museum of Natural History.)
            “Piece a cake,” said Grimace.
            “Yeah, we been there before,” said Felix.  “On a field trip.”
            “We are allowed out sometimes,” said Hop. 
             “And the gate’s not locked,” said Scotch.  “It’s only like a mile away.  We could walk there.”
            “Right,” said Cameo.  “Sometimes the most Herculean feat appears easy.  That’s what They want you to think!  But remember: that is my talent—to see things as they truly are.”  They remembered. 
            “Who is this ‘They’ you’re talking about?” Felix asked.
            “Right.  I haven’t explained them so far—not to scare you.  But if I tell you, you must promise not to tell a soul.  Knowing it could be your death warrant.  And I’ll understand, if you won’t join me on my quest.”
            All of them promised.  None of them said the most obvious thing: that if they were going to the Museum…Cameo couldn’t even walk.  Grimace was thinking he would carry her.  Felix was thinking they could break off the wheels from their scooters and nail them to the feet of her bed.
            “They are called different things,” Cameo kept going.  “Treasure-hunters, Head-hunters, Scavengers—or Tourists.  Some call them aliens or alien invaders, space invaders—but no one knows where they come from.  Some think from other worlds.  Some from the future or past, in time machines or magical time machine shoes…”
            “Time machine shoes?” Grimace asked.
            “My mother knows all about them,” said Cameo.
            “Your mother, the archangel?” Felix said.  (The twins wanted to know more about that.)
            “What my mother really is…” said Cameo, “is ‘A Scarecrow to the Aliens.’  It is her task, to scare them away.  To make sure the Scavengers don’t stay long, or tell their friends to come here.”
            “Wow,” said Hop and Scotch in unison.
            “And she’s good at her job,” Cameo continued.  “But there’s a spy who betrayed her!  Her cover has been blown.  She’s been compromised.  That’s why I was sent here, because she’s in danger.  But that’s why we have to get to the Museum—to save her.  She’s also the curator of the Museum.”
            “Wow, she has like three jobs,” said Grimace.  “I bet she gets a lot of money.”
            Felix finally came right out and said it.  “So, but if what you’re saying is true…How can we help her?  We’re just kids.  And…you know…You can’t even walk real good.”
            “You let me worry about that,” said Cameo. 

Chapter 4: Disbelief

            Cameo Rothschild turned to the twins.  “I understand, before I got here, you couldn’t feel emotion.”  They nodded, embarrassed.  “Okay, so that means there’s power there.  When you wiggle my toes, I feel some movement.  So…I need you to cry some tears on my legs.  I’m thinking that will fix ‘em up.”
            The twins looked at each other, quizzically.  Felix Cube looked at Grimace the same way.  “And Grimace, I’m going to need you—to fight—because you’re strong.”
            Then, Felix thought to himself, like What can I do?  Reading his mind, Cameo said “Don’t worry, Felix.  You’re my good luck charm.”
            “Okay,” he said.  “Well, I feel a little bad—I’m not as big and strong as Grimace.”  Her whole story sounded crazy to him.  They all played along with it.  But still…he could still feel bad.  “All I can do is draw,” he said.
            “Are you kidding?” said Cameo.  “Drawing is the most useful skill there is.  How about paint some racing stripes down my legs?  That’d help.”
            He felt a little dumb—like she was a teacher, giving him busy work, just to make him feel good—but went to get his paints.
            While Felix was away, Cameo said “Now, how can I get you to cry sincere tears?  I don’t want to scar you for life, but…”  Then she snapped her fingers.  “I got it.  Do you know what happened to your parents?”
            That did the trick, turned on the water works.  Cameo cradled Hop and Scotch, but maneuvered them so their heads and tears fell on her legs.  (She pulled up her Cleopatra dress, to absorb them.)  “There, there,” she said, patting their heads like little puppy dogs.  “I’m sorry I said anything…but it’s business.  You’ll feel better after a good cry.”
            Grimace was looking around, like he hoped no one else was watching—or maybe should go get the Magistrate.  (It is interesting, Rudolph didn’t interfere in what Cameo was doing.)
            The twins were almost done crying by the time Felix came back with his paint bucket, five minutes later. 
            “What did you do?” said Felix, not sure who he was asking—Grimace or Cameo.
            “Nothing,” said Grimace.  He got them a Kleenex.  (He did consider it part of his job, to look after them—because they were so small and he was so big.)
            “It’s okay,” said Cameo.  “It’s under control.  Now, for the finishing touches.  Felix.  Paint me some nice stripes—blue and red, if you would.  Blue for courage, red for blood.”  Felix did as he was told. 
            “Now,” she said as he was going, “I know you don’t believe my story.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t’ hurt my feelings.”
            “No, we do,” said Hop.
            “You will believe it when you see what I’ve seen.  It’s a little tough—because some of this stuff is invisible, but…” 
            “Finished,” said Felix.
            “Good,” said Cameo.  Then she stood up.  Hop and Scotch gasped.
            “Is it possible she was faking the whole time?” Grimace whispered to Felix.
            “I don’t know,” he whispered.  (She’d been lying in bed for a week.)
            “Okay, let’s go,” said Cameo.
            “Right now?” Grimace asked.  “Don’t we…need to pack a lunch, or bring some weapons or something?”
            “That’s a valid question…” said Cameo. 
            “Or tell Rudolph where we’re going?” said Scotch.
            “My mother used to say I could get by on my good looks,” said Cameo.  “Plus I’ve got my good luck charm, Felix, here.”
            That’s the second time she’s said that, Felix thought to himself—like it was suspicious.
            “Let’s just step out the front gate, and see how far we get,” said Cameo.  “I’m curious to find out, myself.  Sort of…test the waters.”
            “I guess there’s no harm in that,” said Grimace.  Again, they didn’t quite believe Cameo, or know what to make of her story so far.
            They looked both ways (then a full circle—no sign of the Magistrate).  Then, unlatched the huge gate and walked out.
            The first cannonball tore Felix’s hand clean off.