The Other Side Of Visible—Chapters 2 & 3
This week's blog is CHAPTER TWO & (part of) CHAPTER THREE from my supernatural fiction novel, The Other Side Of Visible! I'm giving away a few chapters absolutely free, as part of the Indiegogo funding campaign I'm launching in the next day or two—where you can pre-purchase the book and also get fun rewards!
If you haven't read Chapter One, it's only a click or two away, on my December 7th blog. And then, read on here!
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Chapter Two The Other Side Of Visible
©2016 Janet Keller Richards, ARR
Being invisible was the one thing in life Shin thought she did well. She could slink around with her eyes lowered, avoiding all bodily contact, and pretty much manage to be ignored by the whole world. On crowded city streets, in grocery stores, at the zoo or the library, most people didn’t even know she was alive.
She called it being cloaked. And ninety percent of the time it worked, which was exactly what she wanted. There was no way she was going to let herself be caught and hauled back into that dreadful foster care system. One of the main reasons she’d worked so hard to master the art of cloaking was to stay out of sight from truant officers and other official snoops who could sabotage her quiet little life on the streets.
Of course, Shin had no idea how thoroughly and utterly visible she was, or that all her daily routines were under twenty-four hour surveillance. She knew nothing of the dazzles who followed her wherever she went, all around her alleyway, all around her daily begging territory, all around the city.
She was convinced she was invisible.
So when she crawled out of the small archway next to Lou’s Wash N’ Dry Laundromat looking like she desperately needed Lou’s professional help, Shin was unaware of the two watcher dazzles hovering by her side. She was also unaware that for the moment, there were no drabs in the vicinity.
Yawning, she stretched to un-kink cramped muscles that for too many hours had been contorted into the warmest possible sleeping positions. Under normal circumstances Shin wasn’t a morning person, but on this day she couldn’t have been happier to see dawn rising above the city rooftops.
She moved closer to the entrance of the laundromat and peered inside. No one was washing clothes at the moment. Quietly opening the door, Shin sneaked inside and disappeared into the ladies’ room.
Thanks to Lou’s unknowing generosity, five minutes later she stepped outside, a little more awake, with the remains of the archway’s mud washed away. While considering what to do next, images of Herbie and Porky walked across her mind and stopped her in her tracks. Blast! What if that creep took them?
As her first pet, Porky was great company. He was a safe friend who purred whenever she fed him and then roamed and reappeared as a homeless wanderer. They understood each other perfectly.
And as for Herbie, it didn’t matter that she was twelve years old. Shin needed that stuffed dog. He was her only tie to the days before foster care, when she still lived with her own family. That is, if a drunk mom and her live-in boyfriends could be called family.
Herbie saw all the craziness then, as well as later, in each foster home. That was why, without ever saying a word, he could comfort her as good as a mama cat wrapping itself around its kittens. He was older now but every bit as supportive, even if too much squashing had caused his Fox Terrier ears to fray, thinned his plaid dog suit, and put some bald spots in his fur. And somewhere along the line his right eye decided to look around the neighborhood all by itself.
But Shin didn’t mind Herbie’s abnormalities. They made him fit right in with her odd little family of three. She and Porky and Herbie got along just fine together.
Until that cruel thug turned their lives upside down. Ugh! What a stupid beast of a man! As a second unnerving thought shot through her brain, she smacked her thighs in disgust. Oh no! What if he tries to take over MY alleyway?
Losing Herbie and Porky was unthinkable. But equally as terrible was the idea that she could lose her home. She’d managed to camp tucked away in that alley for six whole months, her longest time in a hideaway since taking to the streets four years earlier.
And now if that guy had a mind to, he could decide to stake a claim to her territory.
“You have no right to MY stuff or MY place!” she said out loud at the man, giving the pavement an exasperated stomp. But she wasn’t stupid. A skinny girl was no match for the kind of muscle that had attacked her. She could get as hot as a summer sidewalk about what he’d done, but in reality that thug could help himself to whatever he wanted. He could get away with the whole shebang.
“Ugh!” Shin punched the brick wall of the laundromat with her fist and then leaned against the building and rubbed her stinging hand. Now what do I do? Closing her eyes, she tried to come up with a plan. But the injustice of it all kept pulling her brain sideways into a rut of irritation and worry.
Being so preoccupied, Shin forgot all about scanning her surroundings. Chalk it up to not sleeping very well, or to worrying about Porky and Herbie, or to the fear of losing her alleyway. But whatever the cause, less than eight hours after resolving to be more careful, she mistakenly allowed herself to be uncloaked. To be un-invisible. And in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Ahnah and Rahzell both noticed the slew of drabs swarming around a group of approaching humans. They pulled closer to the girl.
“Company’s paying a visit.” Rahzell shook his head and added, “Man, there sure is a whole lot of ugly in that crowd!”
Being a leader and a warrior, Ahnah was by nature the more serious of the two dazzles. Even so, she couldn’t help grinning at Rahzell’s choice of words. He loved playing around with human expressions. She agreed with his assessment though: the drabs circulating around the earthlings were their usual hideous selves.
Both dazzles drew their weapons.
“Let’s stand back-to-back and cover the girl with our wings,” Ahnah said.
“Done.” Rahzell took his place on one side of the girl and faced outward. Ahnah did the same on the other side. Then they both unfurled their large wings and enclosed their human in light.
At the exact moment the dazzles’ invisible wings covered her, Shin heard the sound of voices. Opening her eyes, she saw a group of male teenagers heading in her direction. They looked as if they were begging for trouble the way she begged for money. She lowered her head, shrank into her jacket, and turned away to slip into the laundromat before they took notice of her.
But it was too late.
“Hey chickenhead, where you goin’?”
Shin heard the teen’s question and shot a glance up and down the street to look for other people. No one was in sight—a bad omen for her immediate future. If I go inside they might follow me. Better to stay outside if there’s trouble.
The teenage bullies pulled around her in a semi-circle, each wearing an attitude. With their baseball caps on backward and their oversized pants drooping toward their kneecaps, the peach fuzz on their faces revealed they weren’t quite men, but neither were they boys. Some were white-skinned and some were ebony, and all were heady to strut their power.
Pinned against the bricks in the middle of their gang, Shin reminded herself, Don’t look them in the eye and don’t let them see you’re afraid. Her hands in fists and her muscles taut, she lowered her head.
“Hey, check out the grubbies. She be homeless,” one of them said.
Shin considered trying to break through their ranks to make a dash for it, but they were six and she was one. Instead, she decided it was the perfect time to disappear and go somewhere safe. Anywhere but in this circle.
Closing her eyes, she imagined Africa, one of the many lands she’d read about in her library books. In her mind she was soon on safari, watching a pride of lions off in the distance. The adult lions were stretched out for sleep as their cubs playfully tumbled over one another in the tall Serengeti grass.
While Shin pretended to be far away from city streets and impending trouble, eight drabs buzzed angrily above the teenage hoodlums. The girl child, the object of this particular strike, was hidden from their view under the wings of two dazzles. That agitated the drabs to no end, but none of them was foolish enough to move in any closer. They would stay well clear of their foes and focus their energies on inciting their male earthlings.
One drab flew straight into a teen and shrieked, “Don’t just stand there, you mama’s boy! Prove you’re a man! Prove you’ve got guts, and go after her!”
Like Rahzell, drabs also copied human language. But unlike the dazzle’s fun loving nature, they only imitated for the purposes of taunting, provoking, and tormenting earthlings.
The teen lunged and grabbed Shin’s shirt, twisted it into his fist, and pulled her close. “Yo, Shorty, what’s the verdict?” Inches from her own body, he sneered into her face, until a whiff of stench filled his nostrils. “Oh, man! She stanky!” Releasing his grip on her shirt, he backed off in disgust.
Another voice spoke from across the circle. “Yeah, well, I ain’t interested. She spoiled goods, you know whut I’m sayin’?”
As the drabs throbbed back and forth, Ahnah motioned to Rahzell to surround the girl with his own wings and then promptly flew off through the wall of the laundromat.
Rahzell repositioned himself in front of the child and wrapped his wings around her human body.
A large drab flew over several of the kids and shouted at them. “Come, on, you namby-pamby cowards! Don’t be such weaklings!”
A different drab landed on the head of the tallest teen and sank a claw into one of his shoulders. “She’s an easy target! At least rough her up, you weasel!”
Shin was in and out of the circle, traveling back and forth in her imagination between the brick and cement of the city and the plains of Kenya. In Africa, evening was falling and the winds were blowing, and the lion pride was standing to move on from the shade of a large tree.
The sound of mucus being coaxed into a throat drew her back to the city sidewalk. A second later spit sprayed across Shin’s face in tiny droplets. Another throat cleared. Wetness struck again, but this time a large, single glob landed squarely on her nose and dribbled down into her mouth.
Her body stood still.
The rain had come to the African plains and the lions were lying down to wait it out. It was a strong rain, a monsoon rain.
Soon, with laughter and husky self-congratulating remarks, saliva was flying at Shin from all the around the half circle. Her face was the main target, but also her hair. Shirt. Jacket. Jeans. Shoes.
But just like when she’d been a young child and the sounds of flying fists and angry voices filled the air—Shin had vanished. She was elsewhere.
“Hey! You kids! What are you doing?”
Ahnah flew beside a man who had exited the laundromat and was walking toward the circle of teens.
Rahzell saw her next to the approaching human and put two and two together. “Way to go, Ahnah! Good move.”
“Thank you, my friend. I thought so too.” Ahnah smiled and rejoined Rahzell in covering the girl.
In response to the voice hollering from beyond their circle, the teens stopped spitting momentarily.
The man shouted again, “You get out of here, you hear me? Go on, get to school and leave that girl alone!”
As the circle opened up and the teens reluctantly spread out, another wad of spittle hit Shin’s neck.
“Sleazebag,” one kid slurred her way.
“Cow,” another said as he swaggered off in his hundred dollar sneakers.
The last one to pass by Shin lobbed a final loogie in her direction. But it missed and landed on the cement.
“NOW!” the commanding voice yelled.
The air became quiet.
Her rescuer was beside her. From her downward view of the sidewalk she could see a pair of shiny black shoes. They were tramping on two wet circles of spit.
“Good thing I came outside for some fresh air.”
His voice sounded nice, even kind, but Shin kept her head lowered. She didn’t want him to see what a sleazebag cow looked like. Especially one that had hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Here. You can use this.” The gentle voice offered her a small towel. “And if you want to, there’s a bathroom in my laundromat where you can wash up.”
Shin released her fists enough to take it from his extended hand.
“Sorry about those bullies. Have they caused you trouble before today?”
She shook her head and with the towel, slowly pushed at the slime on her face. It slid around and didn’t come off so easily. But at least it camouflaged her crying.
“Are you Lou?” She was breaking her own rule of invisibility by speaking to him, but she wanted to move the conversation away from herself.
“Lou of the laundromat.”
“Oh. Roland. Lou was my grandfather. We never changed the name.”
Shin wiped her face and neck. The shaking inside of her settled slightly.
“Listen, I have to get back to work. Before you head to school, if you want to use our bathroom to clean up, you feel free, okay kid?”
He patted her on the back. As he walked away, Shin raised her eyes enough to catch a quick glimpse of Roland, grandson of Lou. Dark hair, medium build, looked harmless. He thought she was normal: not spoiled goods, but a kid that went to school.
“Thank you,” she called after him too quietly to be heard.
He disappeared into the wash n’ dry and Shin finished wiping everything that was covered in spit. Still sticky, she decided, this time with the owner’s full permission, to go inside and get rid of the remaining saliva. And while she was at it she would try to lessen her body odor. And maybe scrub off the mortification of being...of being...well, just of being.
A little while later, Shin emerged cleaner than she’d been in days, at least on the outside. She didn’t know how to get rid of the awful stain on the inside.
Rahzell and Ahnah waited to put away their swords until the crowd of drabs had tagged along after their human posse and were long gone.
When their young earthling exited the laundromat they floated along at her side and talked about the good things that were coming, about times when the child’s present struggles would hold no more pain. At some point, they surmised she would discover the realm of OtherSide, a future prospective for which they were both particularly and immortally thankful.
Chapter Three (partial)
A block away from Lou’s Laundromat, Shin’s stomach grumbled a desperate plea for coffee. Ever since someone had offered her a sugary swig at the age of ten, a cup of java in the morning was a daily essential. She needed coffee. Coffee would jumpstart her brain so she could figure out what to do about Herbie and Porky and her alleyway. Coffee would make her normal; less like homeless trash and more like all the city people who drink it on their way to work.
She would go to the zoo.
One of her favorite places to hang out, the zoo took her far away from the city, to places she’d read about in books. Around the wild animals Shin could pretend she was in other lands—where monkeys or zebras or kangaroos lived—and imagine other, happier existences.
The best animals were the big cats. She often sat on the benches in front of the tigers or lions or leopards or cheetahs and watched them glide in and out of the trees on their large, padded feet. In their spotted or striped coats or their impressive manes, they were regal as kings. It was as if they knew they were important, and no one could tell them otherwise.
She envied their self-confidence.
And thanks to some big honcho donor there was no admission charge for kids twelve years old and under, which meant she could come and go as often as she wished.
The zoo also happened to be her preferred begging area. In the morning before the sun got too hot, little old men and women sat on benches along its tree-lined pathways, wasting hours together as if their lives would go on forever.
Now as she rounded the corner at the entrance gate and walked up to the first bench, her empty stomach rumbled a second time. Holding out her hand toward two gray-topped, prune-like faces, she focused on her own fingers and avoided their eyes. “Please, may I have a dollar for breakfast?”
They shook their heads and she moved on.
For a second or two Shin considered staging a hunger strike. With all that had happened during the last twelve hours, begging for food felt about as pleasant as a splinter. But she had to get coffee in order to think more clearly about her present predicament.
Another plump zoogoer sat to her right feeding pigeons. This lady was one of the regulars at the zoo and could always be relied on for some coins. But she was far too talkative. Since Shin’s goal was to be entirely cloaked, all that chatter was plain nerve-racking.
Under normal circumstances Shin only begged from her as a last resort. But today, the sooner she could get food money the better. For a quick buck she’d tolerate the old biddy. There’s gotta’ be a better way, she thought honestly, and walked in her direction.
The woman was leaning forward and chatting in a singsongy voice to a pigeon darting back and forth on the ground. The bird flew away as Shin pulled up and faced the lady. Averting her eyes, she stared at the paisley design on the woman’s skirt and forced a polite tone. “Good morning, could you spare some change, or maybe a dollar or two for coffee and a muffin?”
She could feel the elderly woman gazing at her, as if searching for something.
With a warbled voice that belied her age, the lady answered with all sincerity, “Thank you so much for coming again, dear one. I do appreciate your asking me!”
Shin’s eyeballs bored a hole into the pattern on the woman’s skirt. She shifted back and forth from one foot to the other. Why is she thanking me for begging from her?
There were loads of compartments in the lady’s purse. She slowly fumbled through each one in search of some coins. But in the end she looked up at Shin apologetically. “Oh dear, I can’t seem to find my change just now.” At once, she sat up taller and clapped her hands together. “But I have a brilliant idea! Shall we go to breakfast together? It’ll be my treat. You can have bacon and eggs, toast, or oatmeal; whatever your little tummy is hungry for. How does that sound to you?”
Blinking, Shin pulled her eyes over to the nearby bushes. She certainly was hungry enough for all that food, but this wasn’t the usual interaction with this woman. Her suspicious brain quickly turned the white-haired grandma into a foster agency spy whose all-too-eager smile was concealing a sinister plan to capture her and drag her straight back into the system. Glancing to her left, she searched the bushes for hidden accomplices. Even though she didn’t see anyone, it didn’t mean they weren’t there. After all, spies were good at disguising themselves.
For fear of being lured into a trap, Shin justified passing up a huge breakfast. I mean, who would wanna’ sit with such an old geezer for a whole meal, anyway? “No thanks,” she answered minimally, and backed away from the bench to head toward the zoo’s exit.
The woman called after her. “Well, dear one, I do understand. After all, who would want to sit with such an old geezer for a whole meal?”
Shin stopped and jerked her head around. She just repeated my exact thought! Quite by accident she caught sight of the woman’s face, and for a few seconds their eyes met. Gazing back at her were two round, dark pupils that were swimming with kindness. She yanked her eyes away and fixed them on the arm of the bench.
Piping up with another suggestion, the woman said, “Well then, why don’t I give you a bill so you can go eat breakfast? And when you’re finished, just return the leftover change to me.” The lady’s wrinkled hand promptly reached into her purse, produced a one hundred dollar bill, and held it out for the taking.
Shin had never laid eyes on such a large bill, and having it waved in front of her face threw her completely off balance. She pulled her eyes downward and honed in on the weeds under the bench. This lady is bonkers! Totally crazy!
Images of all the stuff one hundred smackers would buy flashed through her mind. She could get a new rain poncho, a flashlight, some jeans and shirts at the thrift store, and maybe even a coat. Plus, she could eat real meals for a couple of days!
“Okay, I can bring it back,” she answered with all the genuineness of a pack rat. Grabbing the bill out of the woman’s hand, Shin started off in the direction of The Hungry Appaloosa Diner.
The wobbly elderly voice called after her, “I’ll be here until ten o’clock this morning, dear one. Otherwise, you’ll have to give me the change tomorrow.”
“Uh, okay.” Waving a response, Shin kept walking as though the money would disintegrate if she didn’t use it real soon.
* Priscilla, the woman Shin had pegged as “Bonkers,” happened to be intimately acquainted with the realm of OtherSide. She was also keenly aware that valiant dazzles and contemptible drabs flew just beyond the veneer that separated Earth’s realm from the invisible realms.