This is the first part of a trilogy which I posted some time ago at FF.net. Part 1 and 2 are done. The third and final story is currently (finally!) in the works. Since the NWN section at FF.net is a bit of a ghost town, I figured I'd hop over here and share!
I put this in the NWN section for a reason. The reason may not be clear during this part of the story. It will become clear in time.
I will start many chapters with lyrics that I've scrounged up, to set the mood. If, however, I can't really find lyrics that fit the chapter, I won't push it. Therefore, some chapters will be without.
This story is rated M for themes, language, and occasional dirty bits. Mostly language.
Windwalker I: Notus
Notus: The god of the south wind. Bringer of late summer storms and early autumn fog. The wind that turns smooth seas treacherous .
"Poseidon massed the clouds, clutched his trident and churned the ocean up; he roused all the blasts of all the Winds and swathed earth and sea alike in clouds; down from the sky rushed the dark. Euros and Notos clashed together, the stormy Zephyros and the sky-born billow-driving Boreas."
- Homer, "The Odyssey"
Have you ever seen the televised St. Vitus subcommittee prize
Investigation dance? Those-ants-in- pants glances.
Well, look behind the eyes.
It's a hallowed, hollow anesthetized,
"Save my own ass, screw these guys,"
smoke and mirror lock down.
Broadcast me a joyful noise unto the times, lord,
Count your blessings.
The papers wouldn't lie!
I sigh. Not one more.
It's been a bad day,
please don't take a picture.
It's been a bad day.
- "Bad Day", R.E.M.
It had been a bad day, and it followed on the heels of several days just like it.
I was a slow learner. I'd held on to the hope, day after day, that things would get better once I was home and dry.
As I dripped with what, about ten seconds ago, had been the contents of a stagnant curbside puddle, I reflected one more time on the essential futility of optimism.
"I hope you crash into a pole and die, you blind-ass son of a bitch!" I shouted at the taxi's retreating fender.
I tried to wring out my skirt. Then I gave up. What had been in that puddle? Primordial soup? Raw sewage? Anthrax? Whatever it was, it felt slimy, and it was starting to give off the kind of rank effluvium that you'd normally only associate with homeless people and members of Congress.
I eventually flagged down another taxi. He nearly didn't let me in, but I latched on to the door before he could drive away. Then I badgered him mercilessly into giving me a ride. He gave in, mostly because I offered him double fare but partially, I think, because he was afraid that I might not let go and he would be forced to drag me across town – still clinging to his door, wailing like a banshee, and scaring off all of his other prospective clients.
Making other people suspect that you're a dangerous madwoman is a dirty trick. It's also, I've discovered, a very useful one.
The stench of my puddle clashed somewhat with the cabbie's coconut-scented air freshener. I imagined that the cabin smelled a little like the tropics might around malaria season.
"That's not healthy, you know," he chided me when we reached my apartment building. He gestured at my soggy clothes. "You go. Take a bath. No getting sick."
That's why I love this town. It's the only city in the world where your cabbie will give you a lecture on personal hygiene.
I paid the driver. Then I entered my building and oozed past the doorman, who went poker-faced when he saw me. I gave him a jaunty wave, because, hell, it wasn't as if I could make things any worse than they already were.
The elevator was closing. I blocked the door with my foot and squeezed through.
Ben Sherman from 26B was there. The look on the man's face when he saw me was difficult to describe. It blended horrified sympathy with the awkward realization that he was going to have to ride up more than twenty floors with the Swamp Thing.
I gave him a maniacally cheerful smile. "Evening, Ben," I said.
He mumbled a polite response and tried to sidle into the opposite corner as unobtrusively as possible.
We rode the rest of the way in silence. I suppose I could have made small talk, but somehow I just wasn't in the mood.
The phone was ringing when I opened the front door to my apartment.
I checked the caller ID. It was Barbara from the Times.
My blood pressure rose. I picked up the handset. "How the hell did you get this number?" I demanded.
The woman on the other end of the line must have heard something in my voice. "Hey, listen, Becka, don't hang up, I can explain-" she started.
I ignored her. "The mayor had no further statement for your paper last Friday," I said in my press-conference-automaton voice. "He had no further statement yesterday, when you ambushed me in the lobby-"
"Look, I'm sorry about that. I didn't have a choice, Larry's insisting-"
I droned on relentlessly. "He had no statement this morning when the Times cornered me at the goddamned cafe and, by the way, completely ruined the only moment of zen I had managed to catch all day and didn't even have the common decency to make up for it by paying for my mocha, and now," I stopped for breath. Some verve came back into my voice. "Now, you call me at my home and expect…what, exactly? Jesus Christ, Barbara, if this is you trying to get on my good side, you're tilting at one hell of a windmill."
"Would you just listen?" Barbara sounded as tired and frustrated as I felt. "Look. Larry wants me to offer you a deal if you're available for some insider commentary, you know, a voice from the front lines, and I really think you should consider-"
"No," I said. "Now stop fucking calling me about this. I mean it." I took the phone away from my ear and hit 'end' without waiting for a response. Then I slammed it back in its cradle.
Something furry wound around my calves. It mwrled.
I looked down. For the first time that day, I smiled. "Well, hello, sweetie," I said, and crouched down to rub the little white cat behind the ears. "You want food, don't you?"
Sasha meowed and pawed at my soggy knee.
"What? You want up? I'm warning you, you probably aren't going to like it very much. Mommy is very filthy."
Sasha yowled insistently.
"All right, but don't say I didn't warn you."
I picked the cat up and hugged her to my chest. The horrified look on her face bore an uncanny resemblance to Ben Sherman's. "See? I told you so," I said to her, and kissed the top of her head. "But you never listen, do you? Nooo."
The cat flattened her ears in annoyance and squirmed to get down. Then she led me over to her food bowl.
I fed the cat, turned on some music, poured myself a scotch, peeled myself out of my wet clothes, checked my e-mail, deleted most of it, and went through my voicemail, all while the shower heated up to boil-a-lobster.
"Boy, you been a naughty girl and let your knickers down," John Lennon sang from my living room speakers. I jived along.
Most of the messages in my inbox were, unsurprisingly, from reporters.
In the event of civil unrest, riots, electoral fraud, terrorist attacks, or ruptured water mains setting six city blocks afloat like the hugest and filthiest cruise liner ever, the press corps generally files neatly into their little room, they ask their questions, you answer, they file neatly out, and that's a wrap.
Then your boss's jilted mistress comes forward with dates, times, and a red-hot grudge, and boom, the corps turns into a ravening horde and completely ruins your week, if not your life.
It's not as if I even had an inside scoop on the whole sordid affair. Of all of the knowledge with which a wise politician never burdens his press secretary, his sexual proclivities are - thank god - right at the top of the list.
Of course, right at the top of my own personal'need-to-know' list was how all of these people had managed to dig up my home number. That number was unlisted. I gave it out only to my family and my closest friends. The prospect that one of them might have leaked it to the press did zilch to improve my mood.
One of the messages was from my stepmother. I deleted it. If she wanted to say something to me, she could either say it through dad or not at all.
"I am the eggman," Lennon crooned. "They are the eggmen./I am the walrus./Goo goo gajoob!"
I hip-checked the fridge door, cracked another pair of ice cubes out of the tray, and poured myself another scotch.
It took a hot shower and two scotches, but eventually I began to feel almost human again.
I thought about eating something. Then I poked around the kitchen and realized that a) I had forgotten to pick something up for dinner on my way home and, b) even if my cooking didn't usually qualify as a deadly weapon, which it did, all I had to work with was a jar of cocktail olives, a half-gallon of lumpy milk, and a bag of flour tortillas that probably weren't supposed to be the same color as the olives.
I was scrolling through my contacts list in search of someone whom I might be able to cajole, bribe, or bully into joining me for dinner somewhere when the phone rang again.
I waited. After a few rings, the call beeped over to voicemail.
"Hello," a disembodied voice said. "This is Sheila Lawson from the Inquirer. I've got an offer that I think you won't want to miss out on. Why don't you come and join me at-"
I yanked the phone cable out of the jack. Then I threw the entire unit across the room. It left a dent in the wainscoting.
Sasha raised her head and stared at me indignantly.
"Sorry, sweetie," I said contritely. "Go back to sleep."
Then I wondered why I was apologizing to someone whose entire vocabulary began and ended with 'meow'.
See, this is what came of living alone with nothing but a cat for company. Don't get me wrong. I don't know what I'd do if I had to come home every day to an empty apartment. I'd either end up in a mental institution or in the bathtub with my wrists opened, more than likely – but that was the entire point, wasn't it? I had to stay sane and not kill myself. Otherwise, who would take care of Sasha?
Nevertheless, there's something fundamentally disturbing about the realization that the most meaningful relationship in your life is the one you have with your cat.
I rested my forehead against the wall. My head hurt. I needed some fresh air.
"Screw this," I muttered out loud. "I'm going out for a run."