A "Santa Maria" Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria Series
"Deputy Mayor Reynaldo stated earlier today in a press conference that a review of the city's natural gas system shows no anomalies or weakened areas and she reaffirmed the original findings that the small gas explosion last week was due to a hairline fracture in a connecting pipe that cause a small leak. The explosion was sparked by a snapped power line which broke under the strain of a whipping action caused by several birds departing the line simultaneously. All connecting pipes from the same lot have been replaced, though it is unlikely that the flaw would present again," said the news caster. The smart-dressed young man shuffled his papers and continued. "Reynaldo went on to say that she and the mayor extend their deepest sympathy to the family and friends of local lawyer Adam Brenton. Brenton was the only casualty in the explosion that happened outside a local club The Nexus."
"Mac?" Diasuke asked. After no reply from his friend, he asked again.
"What?" the blond responded, shaking himself from the newscaster's words.
"Do not torment yourself. You should stop watching that."
"Diasuke, you don't understand. I have to remember what happened that night. Something. Anything!" Mac shouted out of frustration and grief and pulled himself out of the overstuffed chair. "How can I not remember anything from that night?"
"There are many reasons," his raven-haired friend, said trying to comfort him, "and when the time is right, I am sure you will remember. Can I turn this off now?"
Diasuke flicked off the television silencing the newscaster as he was speaking of a fire in the waterfront district being ruled arson. "Mac you should have a lie down. It has been a difficult day; I know the funeral was hard for you. Would you like some more tea?" The grieving blond man just stood there. "Mac?" Diasuke probed.
"Yes?" he replied, stirring from his grief for a moment. "Right. Some rest. No more tea, thanks. Just make sure Rod takes Adam's antiques away. I've had most of his things boxed up to go off to charity, but Rod said he would try and sell the figurines and silver boxes."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Mac said cutting off his friend. "I can't deal with it. Everywhere I turn I see him and it's too much. It has to go." Diasuke nodded and Mac stumbled off to his bedroom.
In the kitchen Mac's roommates, Rod and Duncan, talked about what had happened the night Adam died. Duncan had many questions about what had transpired at The Nexus and the answers he was getting were not satisfactory, particularly as they involved what had happened to his girlfriend, Bree. Duncan probed further into the circumstances that caused her and Rod to collapse.
"If you passed out from the gas," Duncan asked, "then why didn't anyone else? Why didn't anyone smell the gas?"
"You know the scent of gas is added. Methane gas is odorless. They started adding scent in 1937 after the New London School explosion," Rod answered, hoping to deflect Duncan away. Rodrigo had no idea why he and Bree had passed out, but he did not want to explain that to Duncan, Nor did he want to explain that when they passed out it had felt as if Bree was pulling all the energy out of him.
"Are you suggesting that the city of Santa Maria is not scenting their natural gas?" he asked.
"Well, err. No?" Rod said. Duncan glared at the young Hispanic man whose response was a big, fake grin.
"What are we talking about?" Bree asked as she walked into the kitchen. She hooked her arm around her boyfriend's waist. Her sienna skin complemented his caramel tone.
"The night Adam died," Rod answered, happy for the support. He knew she did not want to talk about it any more than he did. She gave Duncan a quick peck on the cheek.
"Duncan, that night was horrible. Why must you keep asking about it?" she asked, her pale green eyes pleading for him to stop.
"It's just that so much doesn't make sense."
"Well, if you ask my Granny Lanata she says that our ti bon anges were attacked." Both men gave Bree a quizzical look. "Well, my Granny Lanata thinks of herself as some sort of Voodoo expert. Based on what she was saying I guess a 'ti bon ange' is a part of the soul."
"Please don't tell me you believe that Bree." Duncan said.
"Well no, of course not." she answered him, but Rod could tell there was some question in her mind. Duncan started to ask another question when Diasuke entered.
"Sorry to interrupt. Mac is taking a nap and you guys need to make sure he keeps drinking that tea; my grandmother swears by it." He turned to Duncan "Are you able to drive me home still?"
"Yeah, sure." He gave Bree a quick kiss on the lips and a look that said this was far from over. Once Diasuke and Duncan had left, questions with answers that could be more freely given began.
"Attacked?" Rod asked with his panic audible in his voice.
"Yes, that is what she said."
"Then why did you feel different from me? You said you felt as if you were being overwhelmed, filled with power. I felt just the opposite. How can you explain that?"
"I can't. Maybe... maybe I was attacking you?" she offered up.
"Unconsciously? But why?"
"I couldn't say," she answered. "None of it seems to make any sense."
"We need answers, not more questions!' Rod shouted, his frustration giving way to anger. He attempted to slam a drawer shut, but instead he broke it, spilling its contents. A phonebook tumbled down in a shower of pens, rubber bands, and odd bits of paper: receipts, note paper, and gum wrappers. The phonebook landed open. Rod cursed under his breath and Bree knelt down to clean up the mess.
"Have you figured out where you are taking Adam's belongings yet?" she asked as she examined a large advertisement the phone book had opened to.
"No. Why?" Rod responded, his anger giving way to curiosity.
"Take a look at this." She spun the phonebook round so he could read it. The advertisement took up a quarter of the page and was quite simple.
Nostrum's Books, Antiques, & Curios
Find exactly what you are looking for!
We have it all! Porcelain, tin, silver, and scores of rare books! We buy and sell most antiquities and objets d'art.
184 Rocky Pond Way Santa Maria, CA 95035
"Now that's a coincidence," he said with a smile "A bit of serendipity. I'll head down tomorrow."
"If you don't mind I'd like to go with," she said, a bit of hesitation in her throat.
"Of course. You can help me carry in all the figurines." He smiled at her. Even Rod had a hard time denying that ever since their experience in the club he felt a strong connection to Bree Montgomery. They gathered up the fallen clutter and she gave him a quick hug.
"I've got to get going. I'm expecting a call from my sister." With that she walked out of the kitchen and Rod was left wondering what exactly was going on with his life. He crossed the linoleum, picked up the phone, and dialed his friend Aubrey's number. Strangely, he had not heard from her since the night Adam died. He got her voicemail again and hung up. Thirty messages pleading for her to call seemed like enough.
"Obaasan-sama" Diasuke said as he bowed deeply. He was now dressed in his ceremonial robes of crimson, ivory, and gold. An ancient looking woman sat upon a jade throne placed on a golden dais in front of him. She wore a peridot-colored kimono bound with a plum obi, her face reminiscent of that of a dried apple doll. She nodded slightly.
"Senshi Diasuke," she croaked, "you have done well in an unforeseeable situation. Is Mr. Mackenzie Nolan responding to the Black Jade Tea?"
"Yes Obaasan-sama. Thank you for providing it. The Forgetful Salve had lost nearly all of its potency," he answered reverently. She was quiet for a moment, then spoke.
"Yes, it makes sense. Her awakening would require much power. She drained the power of the salve. That is also why the Fae circle fell and the poor Fairy-kin girl nearly died. Aubrey has a great amount of Fae blood in her. The magic of the blood was stripped. She is quite lucky that you aided her." The old woman paused again. "I want you to continue to observe them and keep Mr. Nolan forgetful. We cannot have charges of breaking the Covenant interfere with things."
"Yes Obaasan-sama," he said, "I shall." Her nod told him he was excused. He bowed deeply again and left the chamber.
Bree and Rodrigo walked down Rocky Pond Way, burdened with boxes and looking for Nostrum's Books, Antiques, and Curios. It was not hard to spot the old brick building with its door painted red, complete with a hanging bell. The large display window had the name etched in a curlicue font done up in black and gold. As they entered the shop the brass bell announced their arrival. Multiple stacks of books and mountains of bric-a-brac everywhere filled their field of view. They could see as well as tell from the scent that the air was thick with incense. High above was a stuffed raven, perched among blue glass telephone insulators, geodes, and Toby Jugs as if it was spying on all those who entered. It was as if they had stepped into any number of stereotypical shops from the movies.
"Hello there dears," chimed a melodic British voice "do come over." The voice belonged to a short, round woman with flame red hair piled upon her head with wisps of silver here and there. Her small, dark eyes twinkled. She was wrapped in a tan woolen cardigan with a pinstripe blouse underneath and long floral print skirt; the clothes were a bit big for her. She looked like a living rag-a-muffin doll. "Yes, yes... over here dears. Just put those parcels down over there. Wait, no. Put them next to the anniversary clock. Yes, there loves. Right then dears I am Enid Mardling, proprietor of Nostrum's Books, Antiques, and Curios. I imagine you want to shift what you have in there," she nodded to the boxes they carried without so much as a pause. "Over there behind you dears are some fairy cakes and tea. Feel free to help yourselves while I go through your boxes here." With that she turned to the boxes they had set down and began to rummage through them. Bree and Rodrigo were amazed by the energy of the older woman. Bree shrugged and turned around to grab a fairy cake. Rod followed suit.
"Fairy cake?" he asked Bree quietly.
"They look like cupcakes to me." She smiled and then took a bite of a little cake frosted in lavender icing.
"Haven't you any sense!?" Enid shrieked. "There are fairy-kin runnin' around Santa Maria and you just eat whatever's put in front of you, quick as you please. That's one way to get yourselves in all sorts of trouble." They stared at her, Bree with a bit of icing still on her lips.
"Right then, you two moppets don't know a thing do you? My stars and garters! Such a mess this is, landing in my lap. Don't worry a minute loves, Enid will set things right. Well, much as I can. So dears what do you know about the World of Verisimilitude?"
Again met with blank stares, she started over. "Okay. See, moppets, there is a whole side to the world that most do not know about. Those of us who find ourselves in the thick of it generally call it the Hidden World or the World in Shadow or really whatever strikes your fancy. Officially, it is the World of Verisimilitude. The world you thought you knew is commonly called the mundane or the innocent side or what have you. Again it has an official name, the World of Verity. The two should never cross, which is to say we who are in the know must keep those who are not out of the know.
"You two are now part of the World of Verisimilitude and you better learn the rules quickly lest you break them and are punished." Bree and Rodrigo were utterly astounded.
"You mean because we passed out..." Bree began, but her companion interrupted her.
"I'm not certain that's something we should be discussing with Stable Mable here." He gestured towards the English woman with his head.
"Did you or did you not say you needed answers?" Enid asked, her arms crossed and her demeanor stern. "Well?" Today was not a good day for Rod and Bree to be vocal. They had no answer for her. "I see," she continued, "you have nothing to say. Just going to write off old Enid as a nut? Well moppets, I know you have a lot of questions. You are experiencing trial by fire and if you choose not to listen to me you will surely burn. Now, according to the Covenant I have sworn to, I can't help you freely without some exchange. Normally I would advise you not to accept any sort of deal in which the favor you will owe is open ended, but I do not see where you have much of choice right now. Besides, soon enough you will come to know you can trust good ol' Enid here. Now sit down dears." She made a sweeping gesture towards a pair of cluttered chairs with her arm that finished off with odd twist of her wrist. She waited to continue until they had cleared the chairs of knick-knacks and had sat down.
"Now, there's the Covenant which most all folks in the Hidden World follow. I can give you a book about that; no need to be going into all sorts of details that will not stick in your heads just yet. Now, I should tell you that there are all sorts of things runnin' about. I already mentioned Fairy-kin. Thank the stars there are no actual fairies 'round. They are a powerful lot and love mischief, they do. 'Course, there are mages of various sundry types of magic; they are as good and as evil as they are diverse. Oh, and vampires. There is a nasty group of things. Evil to the core, they is. Why today's society has romanticized them so much I'll never know. Lucky for you both and everyone else, they can't set foot in Santa Maria."
"Why not?" Bree asked.
"Well, it has to do with the city itself. Santa Maria is one of the places of great power on the earth and it has its own rules. It probably has somethin' to do with when the area awoke. The Catholic Church had its hand all up in everythin' back then and cliché as it may seem, the Church and vampires have never gotten along. Never mind all that though. All of that can be sorted out with books. What is going to be much harder to explain is what you two are."
"Are?" they questioned in unison.
"Yes dears. You, young lad are a very rare thing indeed. In fact, most of your kind never even learn what they are. You are what is called a Kindler."
"A Kindler? What exactly is that?" Rod asked, fearing he was losing his grip on reality for even considering all of this.
"A Kindler's what someone who starts things, inspires- awakens potential. And they ain't half bad at findin' lost or hidden things, neither. Leopold Mozart was a Kindler of great power. He was able to awaken the creativity, talent, and passion in his son at a very early age. Now I'm not sayin' that Mozart wouldn't have been a great talent without his father, but it is likely he wouldn't have achieved all that he did." Rod thought about her words. Mac's career and talent really took off during the time they were together. Mac had joked about Rod being his muse. Could there really be something to that? Rod also thought of all the people who said that he had inspired them. A friend from high school had even thanked him in his first published book.
"Then what am I?" Bree asked, more eager than Rod to accept this new world.
"I don't rightly know love."
"Calm yourself dear. You are powerful, whatever you are. To me you seem like raw power; like a force of nature dear. I do know that your friend here awakened you and damn near the entire city felt it."
"Is that why the gas main exploded?" Bree asked horrified.
"No, dear. You were not responsible for your friend's death. I promise you that. I'll also start researching what exactly you might be. Meanwhile I'll give you some books to read and when I need a favor I'll let you know." She moved the library ladder over and climbed up it. She grabbed three leather bound books, none of which had any writing on their covers or spines. "Over here moppets" she called. Enid handed Rodrigo the books and climbed down. "Now then, we have everythin' settled, yes?"
"What about the items we brought in?" Rod asked.
"I'll give you 360 nicker for the lot."
"Nicker?" he queried.
"Ah, what would it be in American slang? Ducats?" Enid asked. Bree and Rod laughed at her attempt to be hip. Suddenly it seemed like they might be able to trust this old woman, even if she was a bit eccentric.
"Okay Enid, you've got a deal," Rod said "and thanks for the books." Enid reached into her sweater pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. She counted out the amount and handed it over to Rodrigo.
"Anytime, love. Now run along moppets. You've got the whole big bad world to learn about." After they had gone, Enid wound her way through the stacks and piles of her shop to her desk. She picked up the phone and dialed. "I just thought you would want to know they stopped in here. Well everyone comes 'round here when they're lookin' for somethin' eventually. No, I didn't tell her what she was; that's not comin' down on my head! Sure, 'course I put a spell on 'em. How would you expect 'em to trust me or a damn thing I said? Anyone with any sense would think me mad. Right then, just thought you should know. Yes, dear. Talk to you soon."
Mac was in the middle of painting when there was a knock at the door. He decided to answer it; his grief was not allowing him to create. The images on his canvas were dull and empty. He grabbed a rag and wiped his hands as he walked over to the door. Upon opening it he discovered a beautiful man, hair long and the color of midnight blue. It was tied back in a loose ponytail. His features were delicate and pale and his eyes were of deep china blue. He was dressed in black cargo pants, boots of the same color, and tight fitting tee-shirt for a local band, the Wind Dreamers.
"Hi there! You're Mackenzie Nolan, right?" the stranger asked as he walked past Mac and into the apartment.
"Excuse me? Who are you and just what do you think you're doing in my apartment."
“I’ve got answers for you, friend.” The attractive trespasser reached down into one of the many pockets on his pants.
This is it, Mac thought. This crazy man is going to shoot me. He was surprised to discover he actually cared. He had thought he wouldn’t.
"No, please don't!" Mac shouted. The stranger pulled a lead crystal vial with an ornate silver stopper out of his pocket. It contained a violet liquid.
"No harm meant, friend. It's just that we think it was wrong that your memory was taken."
Taken, Mac questioned silently.
"We think you should be allowed to remember. It was not the fault of us or the Dragons that you were brought into the fold. It was the Ghoulies and as far as I am concerned one more enemy against them is a good thing."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Mac asked, this time motivated by frustration, not fear.
"I'm Oliver," the beautiful man said "and I want you to remember." Oliver then tossed the vial to Mac, who instinctively caught it. "Drink that and you will. It only works for 24 hours, so you will have to make the decision quickly, but I think if nothing else it should be your decision." With that Oliver walked right out of the apartment, shutting the door behind him. Mac ran to the door, opened it, and stepped into the hall. There was no sign of Oliver, but Mac could still feel the vial in his hand proving that this was not some grief stricken hallucination. Mac came back inside, sat down in his favorite overstuffed chair, and contemplated drinking the violet liquid.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2007
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2007