|[Original Ficton]: YAVNC, chapter 2
||[May. 27th, 2008|12:12 am]
Chapter Two. Just got back from the Liffey; so sorry it's not before midnight.
ETA: some phrasings fixed, thanks to pathology_doc's comments.
The rest of the morning passed in a blur. For some reason Dermot couldn't stop thinking of the winged reindeer. It simply wasn't natural. Or even mythological. Hippogriffs, Mothmen, phantom kangaroos... those were reasonable. He didn't necessarily expect to see one, but he had a frame of reference for them. His favourite uncle was a cryptozoologist, after all. He'd had a plush Sasquatch as an infant. And he still wasn't sure that he'd not seen a lake monster as a child.
But winged reindeer... there wasn't any precedent for those.
In History and Math he found himself doodling little pictures of winged reindeer all over his notes. In French he asked Claudine Thomas why Meursault l'Étranger had killed a harmless Arab by running him over with a renne aux ailes.
Stanislava grabbed him by the arm immediately after class. "Come along now," she whispered harshly in his ear.
"I was going to lunch with you already, Stani," he said. "There's no need to kidnap me."
"We need to talk."
"Of course we do. Without speech, we would cease to be human beings and become mere beasts."
"You've been out of it all morning."
"You've not seen me between first period and French class."
"Dorothy said you seemed distracted in your History class. And Claudine asked me if we'd broken up, because she thought you seemed so preoccupied. That question didn't help, either."
"Well, we were supposed to be funny. I didn't want to use the green rhinoceros over again. And... Claudine thinks we're dating?"
"Apparently. She was hoping it was a chance for her to step into the breach, I reckon."
"I know, I know... Known each other since we were eleven, moral equivalent of incest, et cetera, et cetera. Doesn't change what other people think. Now, don't sidetrack me. Why are you so distracted?"
"Well, it's not every morning one sees a winged reindeer. Especially not in May."
"Strange things happen all the time, Dermot. Or at least we think we see strange things all the time. What makes this one special?"
"Well... it's the wrong season. Reindeer shouldn't be in the state of Shawnee in May."
"Reindeer shouldn't be in the state of Shawnee at all. Except at shopping malls roundabouts Christmastide. But that doesn't matter. You are acting weird. If it were a Sasquatch... either you'd have suggested we call in sick to school and try to make friends, or you would have acted as if it were something we saw every day. This... it's as if you're dreaming about it. What, do you think it's a magical girl who shapeshifts to winged reindeer form when she's late to school?"
"I'd not thought of it that way, but I suppose it isn't inconceivable."
"Sweet blessed Michael the Archangel drinking Beamish Stout with Frey after Sunday morning Mass, Dermot! All right, fine. It was a magical girl running late to school. Why haven't we seen her before? Is she a transfer student? Less than a month before the end of the year?"
"Of course not. She's probably an eighth grader who's only just developed her powers this week."
"Meaning it's one of those puberty metaphor things? Ick, Dermot. That's... wait a minute. You're joking."
"Of course. You're the one with the gift of prophecy, right? Umpteen-greats granddaughter of the Brahan Seer and all that. I could never make a statement like that unless it were a joke."
"Of course." She giggled. It only sounded slightly forced. "Come along, now, let's eat." She took his arm again, more gently, this time. "Let's make Claudine think she's lost her opening."
"She never had it in the first place. She wears glittery nail polish, for God's sake."
"You mean all I've ever had to do to win your heart was wear non-glittery nail polish? Dermot, why didn't you tell me years ago? We could've gone to all the dances."
The cafeteria food was beyond disgusting, as usual. Apparently the iron laws of reality required that a high school could not serve palatable lunches, even if they did consist of barbecued venison and curried goat. Dermot and Stanislava had brought sandwiches from home.
"Mam made her special potato salad for the Daughters of the War of Austrian Succession luncheon yesterday," Stanislava said, quite loudly; Claudine sat at the next table, barely within earshot. "Do have some, my Dermot, she's put extra frog powder in the dressing."
"Frog powder? I've not been able to find any in the shops here. If it's not too much of an imposition, could tell me where she gets it?" Both Dermot and Stanislava spun towards the unexpected voice. It was high and gentle, lightly coloured with some unidentifiable accent. The speaker was about five-foot-eight, slender, with black hair in a french braid, dressed in a long black skirt, white blouse, and a mannish tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows.
"I only was joking," Stanislava said after an awkward moment. "I don't think there's actually any frog powder in it."
"Ah, such a pity. All the same, may I join you?"
"Oh. Of course."
"Will you pardon a self-introduction? I'm Ashley Mundy. Junior. Transfer student."
"Stanislava Morrison. Junior."
"Dermot O'Donovan. Junior."
"Très enchantée," Ashley purred. "I'm so very grateful to you for allowing me to join you. I seem to rather put the other pupils off." She sat down next to Stanislava, and opened up a wooden lunchbox that might have been made by Amish craftsmen. From it she took a covered glass bowl of what looked like cold borscht, a wooden spoon, a paper-wrapped sandwich, and a bottle of reddish liquid.
"Don't mind them," Stanislava said. "They're not bad people, they're just... nervous. You see, local legend predicts that some day a beautiful stranger will come riding out of the east on a black horse and wake the ancient Norse explorers who slumber in their burial mounds in Myrddal State Park. Lore doesn't specify what they'll do afterward, but it seems unlikely that undead Vikings would just open up a new Swedish pancake house. And even if that were all they did, Ole Steensson's doesn't need the competition."
"Oh," Ashley said after a moment. "Well, my horse is bay, not black, and we did come from the East but we trailered her in, along with my mother and father's horses and my sister's pet llama. Do you think they'd relax if I told them that?"
Stanislava blushed. "Well... I was sort of joking you. That is a local legend, but only because my uncle Osis thought it should be and started telling it. Since he's what passes for the world's foremost authority on the folklore of Ludington City, State of Shawnee, USA... well, I suppose it counts. Vaguely."
"Oh. That's a pity. I've always wanted to be mistaken for the fulfillment of a local prophecy. But having lunch with the lovely niece of the local folklore expert and her handsome gentleman-friend is quite a treat, in and of itself. I'm certain I've earned many valuable experience points as a result."
"Err... Thank you." Stanislava looked as if she might have wanted to say more, but couldn't quite work out where to begin.
"Are you a gamer, then, Ashley?" Dermot said quickly.
"Not really, but my family are very much involved with it," she said. "My sire played a minor part in publishing the first edition of Dogwoods and Drakons, and the mater still writes the odd article for Hippogriff. Do you game?"
"Not much," Dermot said. "But Stani's parents have run a game of Star Trawler since before we were born, and my Mam and Dad are big Battleaxe 30,000 freaks. That was part of why we became friends when we were kids, like."
"Yes," Stanislava said, "there I was, thinking I was a freak because every other eleven-year-old I'd ever met who wasn't an idiot that listened to New Kids on the Beach had more dice than I had teeth and toes, when who moved in next door but Dermot? A nice, normal boy with a cittern, a set of singlesticks, and a pet ferret, who understood perfectly well why I'd rather fence with Uncle Osis or play my flute than quest for a Helm of Undoing or generate a new Halfling Paladin."
"How very nice," Ashley said. "Much of my childhood was taken up with dusty books, darkened rooms, and elderly relatives who conducted séances. A very traditional upbringing, of course, but it does leave one... hungry for other experiences. And is that your cittern there, Dermot?"
"She's a tenor banjo, actually," he said. "I play in the Dixieland jazz ensemble. It's not great music, but it does look good on the transcript, when it comes time for college applications."
"Ah, so she's in CGDA, no doubt?" Ashley said.
"Yes," he said. "Not my favourite tuning, and rotten for trad, but there you have it."
"Oh, I don't know," Ashley said, "you can get a lovely twenties-céilí band sort of sound with CGDA and a C melodeon and a good piano player. There was some fine music, then, round Chicago and Boston and New York. Wonderful times, or so I'm told."
"Right," Stanislava said.
"I play fiddle, myself. Is there any chance the three of us might get together... for a few tunes?"
"Sure," Stanislava said. "We'd love to."
"Excellent," Ashley said, sipping delicately at her red liquid. She unwrapped her sandwich. "Blutwurst on white baguette with mustard. Would either of you care for some? Mistress Hopkins always packs far more than I could possibly eat. She's been with the family for centuries, practically, and she means well, but she seems to think I might be in danger of starving to death between breakfast and supper. Or perhaps she thinks I'm out drilling the household troops or hunting boar all day?"