A "Santa Maria" Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria Series
"Let me see the map; you've gotten us totally lost." Bree admonished as she grabbed for the napkin in Rodrigo's hand. He moved his arm away from her grasp.
"Hey now! What would a nice girl from Playa Oro know about Southtown? Besides, we're not lost." Rodrigo looked at the map again. "See, just up there is Twelfth and then it's only two blocks over to Dune."
"Left or right?" she made another playful grab for the hand drawn map which Rod once again avoided.
"Uh uh" he said, followed by a chuckle.
"And what does being a nice girl from Playa Oro have to do with it? Just because I grew up a little more privileged..."
"Yeah, a little more. And don't interrupt me. I fit in just fine down here."
"Please," he said looking her up and down "you are asking to be mugged in your designer jeans and leather jacket."
"Sure. Maybe, but I do look good" she said, flipping her collar up and sauntering down the sidewalk. Rod chuckled some more.
"Okay Naomi. Come on; we've got to do this. We promised and if all Enid wants is for us to deliver a candle to a homeless lady in exchange for lending us those books than I say let's do it ASAP and get out of Southtown." She stopped, turned to him and smiled.
"Okay, fine. Let's get it done. You sure Twelfth is this way?"
"You're late" announced the stranger, taking them both aback. Bree whirled around; her eyes wide and mouth partially agape. Rod quickly put himself between her and the blue haired stranger who had apparently appeared from nowhere.
"What do you want?" Rod said, forced bravado evident in his tone.
"You," the blue haired boy replied. His hair was spiky and his eyes smudged with dark eyeliner. He was dressed in ripped jeans, a fishnet shirt, and a leather biker jacket painted with surreal art; army boots, several rings, and a silver ohm on a black cord completed his throwback look.
"We don't want trouble," Bree pleaded. Rod shot her a quick, angry look.
"Seriously, I'm here for you." He smiled at them, but could tell from their tense stance it did little to calm them. "I'm your guide. Enid arranged it. I'm Ant."
"Ant..." Rod said slowly. "I see."
"Enid didn't mention..."
"Uh, I see. Well, I'm Gamin and I'm here to guide you."
"I thought you said your name was Ant?" Bree asked. Ant rolled his eyes.
"Yes. My name is Ant and I'm a member of the Gamin." Bree shot Rod a quizzical look. "Ah, yes. Okay. Hmmm. The Gamin are like the messengers of the City. Well, no. Not messengers per say, just guides. Well, okay- we do deliver messages." Ant tugged his jacket down. "The Gamin are... they help the City out and help those in the know out."
"And you're here to help us out?" Bree asked.
"You hardly seem in the know. Okay. Sorry. Yes, I'm here to help, but like everything it's not without its price. I'll be needing a kiss." Bree looked to Rod, a cross between anger and curiosity. He shrugged as a reply.
"Okay." Bree said and then stepped around Rod. Ant extended his arm with his palm out to her.
"Not from you." She stopped mid step, taken aback. She turned to Rod, who was smiling a half smile. He walked past her and kissed Ant on the lips. He felt a strange sensation, similar to the night with Bree- he could feel energy pouring into Ant and he was enjoying both the kiss and the sensation; both grew in intensity.
"Look who doesn't know how to act in Southtown," Bree quipped. Her comment broke her friend from the kiss.
"Thanks Rodrigo," Ant said, and then turned to Bree. "And you've no need to worry. Nobody attacks a Gamin. Let's go." With that the blue haired boy turned and walked towards Twelfth Street.
Duncan was hurrying down the street, coffee and briefcase in hand, when he was knocked from his path. He stumbled back and his coffee cup leapt from his hand and flipped several times spraying its contents all over him and the young woman who had derailed him.
"Oh my gosh! Sorry. Sorry!" she offered as she opened her large purse and began rummaging in it. "I'm such a klutz! Damn. I'm sorry." Duncan fruitlessly wiped at the coffee on his shirt and tie.
"It's all right. No worries" he said, trying to force a smile. She retrieved some napkins and started mopping at his shirt. "No. Really, it's okay. I'm fine" he said, taking the napkins from her. He attempted to clean himself up again, this time a bit more successfully.
"But I spilled your mocha-whipped-frappa-coffee-thingy." Her brown eyes looked so pleading Duncan could not help but to let his frustrations drift away.
"No. Seriously, it's all right," he said, and then smiled at her hoping it would allay her concerns. He was more worried about being late than a possibly stained shirt.
"Okay," she smiled weakly. She fished into her purse again and came up with a business card which she handed to him. "I'm Grace. Please let me pay for the dry cleaning," she said, tucking her dark hair behind her ear.
"It's not necessary, really," he replied. He glanced at the card. It read Grace Morgan-Freelance Photographer which was followed by various ways to contact her.
"Please, it's the least I can do."
"Okay, Grace. I'm Duncan. I'll email you about it, but I have to run. I'm a bit late as it is." He placed the card in his breast pocket and shook her hand. "Nice meeting you. Have a great day Grace". He smiled and headed off again. Grace turned and watched him walk down the street with a devious smile forming on her lips.
The trio stopped in front of an abandoned apartment building. Its red bricks blemished with graffiti; its windows and doors covered with particle board and caution tape.
"This is it," their guide announced.
"Not much to look at," Bree said, her Playa Oro upbringing showing. Rod turned to her; he had one eyebrow raised.
"Uh, you do remember we're here to give something to a homeless woman?"
"Let's just do this," she replied. Ant walked around the side of the building. Bree and Rod followed. About half way down he started to climb into the one window that open. Once he was through, Rod hopped in. Bree crinkled her nose and steeled herself for what lay ahead. Then she climbed through. It was dark inside, but there was enough ambient light that she could make out Ant and Rod.
"This way," Ant said and motioned with his hand for them to follow. They weaved this way and that through the halls- Bree was certain they were lost and must had doubled back on their path, but she kept quiet. For some reason she liked this place. It felt comfortable. "Here we are," he said as they rounded a corner. At the end of the hall was a pair of doors. Ant opened the left door. "Just come back when you're done." Rod exited and she followed. Rod gave a low whistle and Bree soon understood. Before them was a fenced off courtyard filled with what at first glance appeared to be trash, but a second look revealed the truth; it was a junkyard sculpture garden. All of the glass and metal reflected the streaming rose, gold, and lavender rays of the sunset giving the courtyard an ethereal glow. It was almost too much to take in. A VW Bug creature looming, a replica of the Statue of David made from crushed aluminum cans, and a water heater with lots of copper tubing becomes a fountain. Sun catchers, wind chimes, and spinning metal flowers made from everything imaginable decorated the courtyard in every direction.
"It's... breathtaking." Bree whispered. Rodrigo responded by gently placing his hand on her shoulder.
"Yeah it is, isn't it?" Ant said in low tones from the doorway. "This is the Transient Garden. Enjoy it. You'll find Lynn over by the fountain likely. That's where she is most days".
They nodded, the beauty of the garden inspiring a silent reverence. They stepped out into the garden and slowly headed to the fountain, turning their heads this way and that trying to take in each piece of art. As they came down the path, a mosaic of broken tiles, to the fountain they saw a woman sitting next to it. She had long silver hair, narrow glasses and while her clothes were old and threadbare, she wore them elegantly. A scarf about the shoulders and even a broach missing its gems adorned her grubby sweater. She was sketching, the pad propped up on her knee.
"Lynn?" Rodrigo asked tentatively.
She looked up from her work. Her eyes were ice blue and there was wisdom behind them. Her lined face gained more when she grinned.
"Yes ducks, I'm Lynn. May I have the pleasure of knowing your names?"
"I'm Rodrigo," he said and then pointing at his companion "and this is Bree." She halfheartedly waved to Lynn. The homeless woman placed the sketchpad aside and started to stand. Rod went to her to help.
"No, no Mr. Rodrigo. I'm still a capable woman," Lynn forced out as she brought her heavy frame upright. She extended her hand in welcome. After shaking both of their hands she asked, "What can I do for you ducks?"
"It's actually what we can do for you Lynn," Rod said with a smile. "We have a present for you from Enid."
"I don't know an Enid." Bree and Rod exchanged a quick glance.
"Well, huh. She wanted you to have this." Bree reached into her purse and handed Lynn a pillar candle, graduated in shades of gray. Lynn took the candle and examined it.
"I don't understand" the homeless woman said.
"We don't either," Bree replied. "Here," she went back to her purse, this time retrieving cash which she handed to Lynn. "Please, go have a nice, warm meal or two. All we know is that we're supposed to give you the candle. I hope you enjoy it."
"I don't exactly have a mantel," Lynn said, confusion on her face.
"It was nice meeting you," Rod said and shook her hand again. Bree waved again and offered a slight smile.
"Nice meeting you too, Ducks." Lynn looked back to the candle, turning it in her hands. Bree and Rod walked back to meet up with Ant so they could leave the marvelous Transient Garden.
Mac stood crying, his tears creating ghostly pools on the glass of the coffee table. He heard the laughter of Bree and Rod coming down the hall, then the door opening. Rod was at his side in an instant.
"Mac," he said hugging him "It's okay." Bree approached more slowly.
"You don't understand!" Mac pushed Rod away. "You have no idea what's happened. If I tell you...," he laughed, a bit of hysteria in it "If I tell you, you'll think I'm fuckin' nuts." Rod looked at Bree who shrugged her shoulders.
"It's fine Mac. I'm one of your best friends. You can tell me anything." Rod said trying to understand what had set him off.
"Oh, Mac..." Bree said.
"It's" Rod started to say.
"It's okay?" Mac interrupted. "No. Actually nothing is okay. You don't understand. Adam was murdered. By a... a wizard I guess. And Aubrey's dead too." Rod half sat, half collapsed into a chair.
"What?" Bree asked "Murdered?"
"Yes, murdered." He ran his hand through his short blond hair. "Adam was struck with fire; shot from a robed guy's hand. Aubrey created some sort of circle of light around me, Diasuke, and herself, but then it went away and she collapsed. I was in shock. Then Diasuke said 'I'm sorry I have to do this Mac, but it is for the best' and put some sort of goop on my forehead. That's all I remember. I don't have the faintest idea what I'm going to say to him." They just stared at Mac. "Say something, anything! Tell me I'm crazy, something."
"I believe you." Both men turned to look at Bree. She went on to explain everything that had befallen her and Rod. It was now Mac's turn to be stunned. "And I think we could all use a drink before we figure out what to do about Diasuke," she concluded.
Lynn pushed back from the table slightly, sated with her meal. She closed her eyes and tried to convince herself to not be suspicious of her good fortune.
"Coffee, hon?" the waitress asked. Lynn nodded and once the waitress left she pulled out the candle, turning it over in her hands, feeling its smoothness and contemplating why anyone would want her to have it. She set it down, grabbed some matches from her bag, and proceeded to light the candle. The flame danced and flicked from orange, to blue, to red. Lynn raised an eyebrow and watched the flame as it sparked a bit. She was transfixed. After a few minutes she shook her head, wresting herself from the allure of the flame.
"Shit," she said, then blew out the candle "What in the Nine Hells is Enid thinking?" She grabbed the candle and then tossed cash down. Lynn quickly rose from the table and headed for the door, leaving the waitress bewildered and standing with Lynn's cup of coffee in hand. Once outside she scanned the area quickly and then headed around the corner only to come face to face with a robed figure.
"Eleanor," the figured hissed, "it is so nice to have you back among us. We missed you. No one heard her scream.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2007
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2007