Irongate – Chapter Four

Irongate’s economy had changed much in its life, but remnants of the town’s origins were still scattered here and there. But life is change, so even sites like the old steel mill had been altered and re-purposed. Once a scorching temple to industry, now a den for all sorts of what those old folk would call depravity. In truth, no one went to a club to have a good time. The actual experience of being in one was freaking awful; just noise and sweat and stink. But the memory, the online pictures of a friend barely contained by her cocktail dress as she vomited in a bouncers hat – that was what they came to The Mill for. The moments. Also because in Irongate there was really just no place else to go.

So it was for Kaya, parking Greenback at the top of a winding road. On one side the ocean of green that rolled to the horizon, on the other a group of red brick warehouses that surrounded the venue and a beakish, gray, straggly haired man frowning as she stepped out. “This isn’t right,” he murmured.

Kaya rolled her eyes as she went around to open another door. “What’s not right, Clay?”

“Your vehicle,” he peered and squinted like trying to dispel an illusion. “It’s suburban, middle-income, parents – not what you should have at all.”

“You’re saying I drive a soccer mom’s car?” Kaya patted the green hatchback as if assuring it not to listen to the strange man. “Well, it was a bargain. Plus plenty of room inside for my instruments and other stuff,” she said, sliding out her guitar case.

The explanation seemed to put Clayton’s troubled mind somewhat at ease, until he circled to the back and spotted another thing out of order. “You changed the badge – this is a K-Series! These were recalled for turning over.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Kaya slung her guitar on her back as she slammed the door. “Like I said – bargain. Just got to take it real slow around corners.” Clayton ‘hmmmed’ unhappily; Kaya didn’t know if he was unhappy at her, himself for not being able to make sense of things, or the world for not being as neat and tidy as he would like. “Why’d you quit your old job, Clay?” Kaya asked. “You know your new boss doesn’t actually sell insurance, right?”

Clayton heaved and exhaled, “I didn’t quit. I was replaced.”

“By what?”

“Something that could do the same as me, but faster and better.”

“Well that sucks.”

“It’s evolution. Not a lot of point fighting it.”

And so like so many others with no place else to go, he’d ended up here. Where Kaya kept being pulled back to like she had a rubber band tied round her waist. Resignedly she asked, “where’s Stan?”

“He’s taking a delivery.”

Stan Greif owned most of this neighborhood – at least he did for all intents and purposes. He was a squat little bald bulldog of a man barking orders as men ferried crates and trunks from the back of a truck. “Easy with that! That is some expensive and sensitive flip! You drop anything I will have your flippin’ fingers off, you got me?” As Kaya approached he turned with a toothy grin, “ah, if it isn’t my favorite delinquent,” he laughed, slapping her on the back probably much harder than he intended. “To what do I owe the woe? You on tonight with – what are you calling yourselves now – Killer Aqua Babies? Barbies?”

“Bunnies,” Kaya informed him.

“What the flip is an Aqua Bunny?”

“It’s just a name,” Kaya arched a brow, “flip?”

“Amara’s warned us to tone down the language,” Stan explained. He owned The Mill, but Amara was the day to day manager. “What do you think it takes to woo a lady like that? I’ve tried flowers, jewelery, the heads of her enemies – she still doesn’t take any notice.”

“Aren’t you still married?”

“Yeah,” he snorted, “on paper anyway. That witch is probably all strung out in our bedroom, and trust me she’ll have plenty of company in there. If it weren’t for her family we’d have been done with each other a long time ago. But we’re all trapped in our own ways, right?”

“I guess,” Kaya was in no position at all to disagree with anything this man said. “So, what’s in the crates?”

“Ah,” Stan gently put a hand on her shoulder to turn her around. “Ask no questions, Cade,” he flipped his nose, “and you’ll be told no lies. Unless you want in – I’ve always got a job or two for someone with your talents.”

Kaya grew a little fed up of all the ambiguity. “By job I assume you mean larcen, right?”

“All property is theft, Cade. You know that. I mean you should liberate some stuff, and bring it all to me. I’ll make sure it finds a good home. But if you still want to be clean then you just look away. Got me?”

Her options had rapidly dwindled; down to either this or that sack of manure she called a father. Maybe this was just who she was – who she was always meant to be. The universe just wouldn’t have it any other way, and nothing could fight the universe since everything had to somehow live in it. “Can I sleep on it?” She asked, wanting to pretend she was resisting for just a little while longer.

“Sure,” Stan frowned, “hey – you okay, Cade? You look tired. Something eating you?”

“Just been reflecting a bit lately on past mistakes,” and trying to figure out if there was ever a point she didn’t have to become this, but there was no need to tell him that.

“Ah, come on – you’re too young for regrets, Cade. Wait ‘til you’re married and have kids, huh? Now go on; live your life. Have fun.”

“Sure,” Kaya walked to The Mill’s rear entrance.

“Oh but hey,” Stan called, “you and them other ladettes better not cause any trouble. And you keep it clean. You got me?”

“Brats on the beat. I got it.”

*****

The sun was starting to set when Benji left his home. As he set off into the evening commuters were returning home, dogs yapping, kids playing – or at least they should have been. Benji halted on the path by the swings, feeling a eerie silence from the four children gathered there who now all turned their eyes to gaze straight through him.

His muscles juddered, but – no. There was no way they knew. True, Nick hadn’t shown up but he probably just ran off to hide after doing… it. Anyway, that was Pope’s problem to deal with, not his. Not now. Tonight he was going to go out and have a good time and not be creeped out by some freaky kids.

“Haven’t you lot got homes to go to?” He snapped.

Silence.

Benji shivered under the chill of their accusing eyes. But no – they were just being weird. He didn’t have time for this.

*****

As Kaya approached the green room, Angela Greif lent by the door with her arms folded; Dark hair, dark clothes, and dark stare. With her jaw shifted a little sideways, she said, “saw you speaking to my dad.”

Kaya shrugged, “well he’s the boss. Gotta say hello.”

Angela squinted, pushing herself off the wall and limbering toward Kaya. “You don’t have a thing for him, do you?”

“For your dad?” Kaya scoffed. “Of course not. That is just wrong in so many ways.”

“Good,” Angela grinned as she shoved her nose close to Kaya’s. “Because if you did, I’d gut you. Not looking for a step mom. Especially not one I went to school with.”

Honestly, Angela’s threats were far less credible than her bulldog father’s. She was more like a kitten trying to roar. It was only because of her dad people didn’t all line up to smack sense into her. Besides, it was Amara Stan was interested in, but Amara was one of the few who would not tolerate Angela’s nonsense. Kaya was not in the mood either, just knocking Angela’s shoulder aside as she pushed through into the small bar where a goth band were sitting in an opposite corner to the rest of The Killer Aqua Bunnies.

Ashley, the stripy badger haired bassist, snapped her fingers next to the unflinching drummer sat cross legged on a table, eyes closed and thumbs and middle fingers pressed with each hand. “What’s up with Sayuri?” Kaya asked, the inert yet serene drummer not reacting to her either.

“She said she needed to purge negative energy or something,” Ashley explained. “She’s been like that for twenty-seven minutes.”

Angela must have said something to her, Kaya reasoned. Stan’s daughter was obviously looking to vent some frustration of her own as she swayed past Kaya to put her face in Sayuri’s, saying, “you know I can’t tell if she’s asleep or just Asian.”

Ashley had taken her usual place standing behind Angela, chuckling even though the joke wasn’t all that funny. Sayuri however did then react, middle finger leaving her thumb to stand up straight. You didn’t need to hear the two words she mouthed to know what they were.

“Woah,” Angela backed up, laughing, “easy Tiger. Just can’t have you ascending to Buddha or whatever before we’ve had a chance to go on.”

“Hey,” Kaya interjected before Sayuri could react further. “Why you don’t go get some drinks? The good stuff – you’re the boss’s daughter after all.”

When Sayuri was stressed her habit was to wince with just her right eye then spread a hand over it like she feared it popping out of the socket. “My brother used to tell people I had a demon inside me,” she said, “I kind of wish he was right. Summoning a writing mass of spikes and teeth on Angela’s empty head would really make me happy now.”

“She never used to be so much of a headache,” Kaya sighed, “or maybe she’s the same but I’ve changed. I don’t know. You got all your crystals?”

Sayuri patted her necklace and the pockets of her leather jacket. “Obsidian, Jasper, Amethyst… yeah. Yeah. I’m cool. I’m always cool. Chilly McChillface – that’s me. I am an oasis of calm in a desert of despair. How are you?”

“Good,” Kaya lied. Sayuri could tell – she could tell, so Kaya sat herself by the table Sayuri was still sitting on. “Not good. Does that stuff really work? The crystals and mantras and everything?”

“Will it cure disease? No,” Sayuri shrugged, “but beyond the physical, what does it matter so long as it makes you feel good?”

“I guess,” it occurred to Kaya that thinking could justify a lot of harm, even if not to you directly. But Sayuri was cool – all her crystals and what-nots were surely ethically sourced. She was so chill it begged the question, “why do you hang out with us?”

“Can’t drum at home, but its good to let loose, you know? I just imagine the drums are the skulls of everyone who’s given me negative vibes. Why are you still here?”

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Kaya sagged, “used to be I wanted to fit in and be part of something, but now I’m not feeling it. Yet I keep coming back. So maybe I’ve got some kind of disease. Or a curse.”

Angela returned with the drinks, Ashley in tow, overhearing the last words of the conversation. “If it’s a curse you’re dealing with Cade,” Angela said as they dropped into the seats on the other side of the table, “maybe you should go see the witch.”

Kaya was intrigued. “What witch?”

“Madame Lumina?” Sayuri offered, but Angela quickly shook her head.

“Lumina is a fake hex,” she said, “I’m talking about west of town, there’s supposed to be some sort of tower. Looks like a lighthouse or something.”

“Why would there be a lighthouse?” Kaya pointed out, “we’re nowhere near the ocean.”

“That’s the mystery, isn’t it? But it’s there,” Angela nudged Ashley, “show ‘em.”

Ashley held up her phone with a map and then distant photo of what did indeed look like a lighthouse poking up over the trees. “My brother went there with some friends. They say if you get too close, fog appears from which comes the howling of agonized spirits and this low rumble that rattles your bones and empties your bowels.”

“So,” Angela supped, “you want to check it out?”

“Maybe next week,” Kaya suggested. By then they’ll have forgotten about it, which was for the best. These kinds of story were at most just some poor person who wanted to be left alone. Other people who likely wanted to be left alone were the goths – unfortunately Angela had just caught one of them blatantly glancing in her approximate direction.

“Hey,” she glowered, “is that vegan vampire wannabe staring at me? Thinks he can hypnotize me or something?”

“No,” Kaya gestured for her to sit down, “wait…”

It was too late. Angela was up, Ashley on her heels, the goths frozen like deer. “Hey, what’s wrong? I just want to talk to you guys,” she said. And by ‘talk’ she really meant slap. If they did have any delusions of power they rapidly fled before the reality of a hyperaggressive punk too bold or too stupid to be afraid of them.

“She is getting more out of control,” Sayuri sighed, “it’s not really zen, but I think someone’s going to have to kick her ass.”

“The last person who tried to fight Angela-” Kaya grimaced, recalling how she’d just stood and watched. “It didn’t go well for her.”

“Look – you’ve made bad choices, okay? We all do. But you still have it in you to not be a dick all the time,” as Sayuri said that, a bottle broke which Angela then brandished close to the neck of a petrified goth. “Besides, Stan likes you, and someone’s got to rein her in before she goes too far.”

If Amara were in here she’d chuck them all out, then none of them would get a chance to play. So it was up to Kaya. She didn’t have to beat up Angela; just get her back in her seat and away from everyone else. After gulping down some drink she got up with the word, “flip…”

*****

Under the twilight sky a fairy circle spread out in the woods, the fungi and the mycelium glowing and humming with energy in response to some unseen instruction. Then, with a pop, Tenley Tych appeared in our world, along with Ella and Lilian and Titania. The others were unfazed by this mode of travel, but Tenley wobbled, disorientated. A second ago she’d been standing in the cave. “H-how did you-”

“Oh, it’s magic dear,” Titania said dismissively, “don’t even think about it.” The Queen arched as she deeply inhaled the air. “A storm will be here soon.”

“You can sense that?”

“I looked at the weather forecast on my phone. I’m not a complete troglodyte.”

Although dissatisfied with some of Titania’s answers, it wasn’t why Tenley was here. Other children were waiting; patiently, silently – which even Tenley knew was not a natural way for other kids to behave. At a nod from Titania one of the kids slowly stretched out their arm, pointing of trees and hills to where they could hear music thumping.

“How do they know what to look for?” Tenley asked.

Titania irritably rolled her head, “I took the liberty of taking an image from your memory and passing it to all of them.”

Tenley’s face tautened, “you were in my head!?”

“Just for a second as you changed. Don’t worry – I didn’t look into your crushes or anything.”

That wasn’t really the issue, Tenley thought. It was just – she hadn’t asked permission. And the other children all staring blankly at them, “why don’t they speak?”

“They’re fine. Just sleeping. Dreaming about stars and unicorns and candy houses. It is a kindness – not all adapt to the change so well as you. You are different from them. Meant for higher things.”

Tenley didn’t know if she was ‘special’. Mother never seemed to think so. She supposed it didn’t matter so long as she got what she wanted. Then, maybe, worry about everything else. Besides, there were worse things to be than asleep – Tenley didn’t think she could ever dream again.

Titania looked curiously at her. “You’ve been speaking to that jester, haven’t you?”

“He said he was a knight,” Tenley admitted.

Titania snorted, “another childish fantasy. Pay him no mind. And you lot,” she turned back to the other children, “run along home before you’re missed.” And so they did, taking off and scattering into the evening. “Your target is at The Mill. A little bit awkward; big crowd, lot of eyes. Plus they’re not exactly going to let you in the door. And you know the rule, yes?”

“No one can see our power.”

“-and live. I suppose we could just kill everybody – that could be fun. But then other humans would come to investigate and we might have to kill all them as well and it would all become very tedious. So, do you have a plan?”

Tenley leaned sideways on a tree trunk, looking up toward The Mill. “I can wait,” she said.

“Ah. Yes. Waiting,” Titania sat herself down, twirling her flower umbrella. “That’s not tedious at all.”

“Go then,” Tenley snapped back, “I don’t need you all watching me.”

Titania grinned back at her, “you are capable, child, but you still have much to learn. As it is I do have other matters to attend to. But,” she snapped her fingers and leaves rustled next to her. Another of the invisible creatures that had attacked Beanie, only now Tenley could see it or at least the outline of it. “This one will watch. Until I am completely confident that all is well in you. And Ella,” Titania broke a small thorn from the stem of her flower, dropping it into the palm of the curtsying blonde bully. “The prey wants to dance. Make sure that he does.”

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