Happy holidays once again to all of my lovely readers!
2 Turtle… Worlds
“All right, we’re going to try a new game.”
The gathering was what would be considered by many of the more traditional of their family to be unusual, possibly, given the people they were talking a out, considered forbidden or just wrong by at least a couple.
Despite her pleasure at thumbing her nose at her more difficult relatives, that wasn’t why Eva was hosting this party.
“I found this in an old diary we were digitizing. Well, credit where credit is due, mostly Beryl found it.” She nodded at her niece.
Beryl, as was her nature, blushed and looked away. “I just said they didn’t say much about parties. Sure Aunt Zenobia was kind of anti-social, but not all the Aunts were like that.” She gestured a little at Eva and the other Aunts in the room – there were three other who were Aunts of their own file branches, piles of nieces, a couple nephews, some cousins, and an Uncle – although not her own; Karen’s husband was somehow sharing the mantle of Aunt-ness with her – and, in addition, her Great-Aunt Rosaria. In short, she’d invited almost everyone who was 16 or older, who she had a contact for, who had the strength of the family power – with the exception of a couple older, more difficult relatives who would have hated the whole idea of the party at all or simply stressed everybody else out so much that it wouldn’t be fun at all.
Indeed, she caught some of her younger relatives glancing at Great-Aunt Rosaria uncertainly. Rosaria simply sat in the corner with her knitting, smiling at everybody. Eva wanted to reassure the kids, but she was pretty sure she couldn’t say anything that would do more than half an hour of drinking in the same room as the woman might do instead.
“So it goes like this. You start with something like: On the first day of Christmas, I looked and I did see…”
She heard a few groans, including one from Deborah, the weirdest Aunt of the family who Eva had either encountered or read of.
“Bear with me here. So the tricks are: your verse needs to match the scan of the song at least a little. It can be a little fudged, but the more fudged it is, the better your story ought to be.”
She waited: a beat, beat….
She smiled at Storm for feeding her the line.
“A story! So, if I say I saw a partridge sitting in the orchard… well, but we’re in the New world, so let’s say I saw a Quail sitting in the orchard, then there needs to be a story – did it have newspaper in its beak that was from something a cousin did? Was it building its nest upside down? It doesn’t need to be true but it does need to be believable.
“The second trick…” She grinned now. If this went even remotely well, it was going to be fun. “Is that you have to remember everyone else’s line too. If you botch it too badly, you have to tell two stories – one for the one you botched and one for your own line.” She paused. “Are we good?”
“Sounds like we shouldn’t have started drinking first,” Bellamy complained, although not too intently, because Eva was letting them drink. “Does that mean Aunt Deborah is going to win?” She gestured at Deborah, who was at the moment heavily pregnant (another weird Aunt, all things considered).
Deborah was accompanied by two of her relatives, who were there, as they said, “just in case anything goes wrong.”
Eva hadn’t decided if they were meant to be nursemaids, bodyguards, to pick up the Family Power in case Deborah’s baby suddenly made her drop it, or some combination of the three. In an uncharacteristic move for an Aunt (or any member of their family), she decided it was currently none of her business, either.
“I don’t know,” Chalcedony demurred, “I might win instead.”
The air was heavy for a moment, as they all noted that Chalce hadn’t drank a drop of her celebratory champagne.
“Chalce!” Beryl stared at her sister. “Mom and Dad are going to kill you. I might want to, too!”
“As if.” Chalcedony rolled her eyes. “What are they going to say? That I shouldn’t do what they did?”
FJayden, Eva was pretty sure, would do exactly that, but she let the two go.
“Mom was in college. You’re in high school,” Beryl countered.
“I’m also 18; he’s nineteen. No,” she cut off her sister. “I’m not going to tell you who. You can scry it if you want to find out. Sorry, the game, Aunt Eva?”
Eva had to admire her niece for the timing – to give her a way to tell the people she needed to tell – well, some of who she needed to tell; Barrow was right; she was going to need to tell her parents – and then change the subject immediately to avoid too much fuss.
“All right, I’ll get us started. On the first day of Christmas-“ she did her best to hit the notes clean and clear. She would never be a professional singer, but she wouldn’t shame the choir. “-I looked and I did see, an omen-bird staring from the tree.” She waited while they all stared expectantly at her, and then she pointed out the window, where in the ancient oak tree that looked over the house, single Magpie was indeed watching them.
The groaning and complaining was just enough to tell her that people were into the idea and not enough for her to come up with another story. “Okay, Next?”
She watched Beryl looking around to see if anyone else was going to come up with someone. When nobody else did, she started on in her own high, careful voice.
“On the second day of Christmas I looked and I did see: two World Turtles and an omen bird staring from a tree.”
She paused for a second, and when no one said anything she started her story.
“No shit, there I was…” Beryl glanced around to see if any of the “adults” were going to yell at her for her language, but since they’d all used worse, nobody said a thing. “So.” She cleared her throat. “I was up on the roof of the school, with Jayden, Brett Cohen, and Michael Smith. ”
This time, she didn’t bother to wait at all, although Chalcedony did hiss Michael Smith! while aiming a funny look at Beryl.
“I was up on the rooftop,” she continued –
“-Sleigh bells ring,” put in Bellamy, because Bellamy sometimes was like that, apparently more so after a glass of wine.
“No sleigh bells; Melanie Bell doesn’t like the roof. There I was when I noticed a particular piece of graffiti. Now, since not many people go up on the roof -“
“- losers and hoodlums,” her brother filled in in a grumble.
“And me. Since not many people go up on the roof, sure, graffiti isn’t all that uncommon. But this wasn’t just any graffiti,” Beryl continued, as if she hadn’t been interrupted.
Eva filed the names away to see if she could get information out of her relatives later. Deborah’s life might be none of her business, but Beryl’s was another matter entirely.”
“This,” Beryl went on, “this was artwork. And it was more than a piece of artwork, it was…” she changed the inflection of her voice, putting power into it in an impressive imitation of one of their more intense grannies. “This was Artwork.
“So, of course I asked, because that’s rule number one, and maybe rule number two, too: if you see the unusual ask about the unusual. I thought maybe Jayden… but it was actually Michael who told me.”
“It wasn’t me,” Stone told her, ignoring the rest of the room. “Even if I was that good I don’t go up on the roof with those people.”
“I know. That’s what makes it even weirder, I think. She gestured at Stone. “Because it wasn’t you. It wasn’t him.. I mean Jayden.”
“Jayden,” Storm scoffed.
Beryl wisely continued as if she hadn’t heard him.
“It’s the janitor. The janitor at our school, creepy Ted -“
“You shouldn’t call him that,” one of her cousins protested.
“- creepy Ted, the janitor at our school. He does Art and he did Art of a world turtle. And it gets weirder.”
“It had better get weirder,” Storm cut in. “Right now you only have one turtle world.”
” You know, Storm, cousin, ” Beryl smiled sweetly, “you’re going to have your turn, too. So, as I was saying got weirder.
“There I was, again, sitting in advanced drawing next to Cindy Lou Howell, and she was drawing the same thing. Not just any turtle with the world on its back – sure, it’s a famous shape, there’s that whole thing with Terry Pratchett and Discworld – she was drawing the same weird continents, the same shape of the flippers, of the head – the exact same thing that was up on the roof.
“Okay, sure, maybe she stole the idea, except this is Cindy Lou Howell. Probably going to be valedictorian. Never missed a day of school in her life except that one time she got chicken pox. She’s never gotten caught breaking so much as the smallest rule. Doesn’t even take a study hall. She’s 100 per cent Perfect Student. So I’m thinking…
“I’m thinking maybe it came to her in a dream? I mean, all of the reading we’ve been doing-” she gestured vaguely upwards, as if towards Eva’s attic, where there were stacks and stacks of old journals that they had been digitizing slowly, painfully slowly “- Sometimes, they say that when you get, well, not too many, of course, but a lot of the family or really, any people with powers, in one spot, you end up with a sort of aura of weirdness around us. So I’m thinking that maybe people are having dreams, the way they were in Aunt Ida’s journals.
“Which of course leads me to the question… why are people dreaming about world turtles? Because I don’t think it’s just because I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett.”