Regi finds the busy world outside his Airstream trailer too full of misery and pain to tolerate. He leaves it all behind for the quiet of his land, the company of his dogs, and the freedom from the thoughts and dreams of others. His magic shows him the truth of things – no matter how dark the truth revealed.
Cali Spencer knows his power might save the life of a child and interrupts his peace. How can he deny her?
The dogs barked, waking Regi from his fitful sleep. The hammock swung beneath him as he rolled on out to land on the cold floor with his bare feet. A big man, Regi filled the small Airstream trailer. Filled it to the bursting point just standing in the small center space. He wore only his blue shorts which left the rest of his well-defined body exposed. He went to the door and had to bend over so he didn’t hit his shaved head on the top of the opening.
On stepping out into the clearing he felt a prickle on the air. Another mind, several of them, at a distance yet back in the trees. The dogs barking had made them nervous. Regi rubbed the space between his eyes and hoped that he could keep a headache at bay.
Quiet. He didn’t say it aloud but the two dogs standing in front of the Airstream, Genghis and Khan, two big brindle mastiffs, calmed to an alert poise. Regi rubbed his eyes. A few clouds hung above Mt. Rainier, stained red by the sunset. Whoever was out there he wanted them gone.
“Hello?” Regi called. “You’re trespassing. Best you get back on the road.”
When had that ever worked? This time wasn’t going to be the exception. They came on foot, three of them. The boulders he’d put out at the end of the drive had at least stopped cars from getting any closer. The man and woman he didn’t recognize. White, well-dressed for the city but not dressed to be out in the woods and mud. He recognized the third member of the group. Officer Cali Spencer, the perpetual thorn in his side. She might be small but she was tenacious.
Spencer hooked her thumbs in her belt and assumed a wide-legged stance. Her wide mouth opened in a broad smile. “Regi, how’s it going man? You’re looking good.”
“Better before you showed up. I was sleeping. Peacefully.”
“Sorry to interrupt your beauty sleep but I need your help.” She turned her head slightly towards the couple standing nervously behind her. Genghis and Khan eyed them. Khan licked his lips.
Lie down. Both dogs stretched out on the ground. Khan, always willing to push his luck yawned widely to reveal his big teeth. When Regi looked at him Khan gave him an innocent who-me-look.
“I don’t dream anymore.” Regi looked at the couple, out of place white folks trusting this cop enough to bring them out in the middle of the woods to face a big giant of a man wearing nothing but blue shorts and his scars. Between the scars, his muscles and the two equally muscled dogs it was a wonder that they hadn’t already taken flight. He didn’t like that his size intimidated people but he couldn’t do anything about their reactions. In case Spencer hadn’t heard him he repeated himself. “I’m serious. I don’t dream anymore.”
“I heard you.” Spencer’s smile widened. “And you know what Regi? I don’t give a fuck. You’re going to do your magic thing that you do for these people. You’ll change your mind. You know it. I know it. So let’s stop doing this pissing contest and talk like civilized people. You can make us some coffee.”
Only her. He flushed. Anyone else and he’d have gotten pissed off but she made him weak. He hated that about her. Or he loved it. He never could decide. Both were true.
“You push your luck.”
She shook her head. “No I don’t. Come on, that’s a good boy.”
Regi growled. He turned back towards the Airstream. “Give me a few minutes.”
He resisted the urge to slam the Airstream’s door when he went back inside. He grabbed a clean white t-shirt from the bins beneath his hammock. In a standard Airstream they had a bed there but he didn’t fit the bed. A hammock hung diagonally fit him better and was more comfortable. He’d converted the space beneath into additional storage. He pulled on the shirt. Then he went to the small kitchen and put on hot water.
A knock at the door.
Spencer. He leaned on the counter, took a breath, then turned and leaned over to open the door. Spencer looked up at him. “Need a hand?”
“I can manage.”
“Let me in, I’ll help.”
Regi growled and drew back. Spencer bounced up the steps into the Airstream. She shut the door behind her. He caught a glimpse of the couple talking in hushed whispers while shooting glances at the Airstream and the dogs.
“Do you have mugs?”
Regi pointed to the cupboard. Spencer opened it and took down three of his four plain white mugs. In the small space he couldn’t help but be standing close to her. The only way to get further away would be to climb into the hammock and that wasn’t the message he wanted to send. He could smell the clean soap and gun-oil smell of her. He took his can of instant coffee out of the cupboard. No reaction from Spencer. Her thoughts felt carefully ordered. She didn’t let anything slip.
“A child is at stake, Regi. That’s why I came. Their child has gone missing.”
“They aren’t suspects?”
“No. Not so far as we can tell. It sounds like a genuine abduction. We need to find this child. I need your magic.”
How could he argue against helping a child? He couldn’t. Except she didn’t know what she asked of him. She saw results. Helping people. Her big heart for everyone else blinded her to things she couldn’t understand.
“Of course,” he conceded. He peeled off the top of the coffee can. “It isn’t as easy as you might think and there are risks.”
“I know you’re up to any risk.”
“Me, maybe. But what of the child? There are two ways this is going to work and they both might fail. Or we might be too late.”
Spencer shook her head. “I won’t believe that. We’re going to get this child back.”
The kettle whistled. Regi moved it off the burner started spooning coffee into the three mugs on the counter. He poured in the hot water and stirred. Spencer watched. After he finished she picked up one and headed for the door. He took the other two and followed. She opened the door for him and they descended back out into the darkening evening. As soon as he approached the couple they tensed. He held out the mugs.
“Here, be careful. They’re hot.”
The offer overcame their hesitation and they both took the mugs. Spencer gestured at Regi. “This is Regi Banks, the man I told you about. Regi, Michael Smith and his wife Ann.”
Regi nodded. He didn’t have any furniture out here in front of the trailer. Nothing but the overgrown road that led to this clearing. The rest he let go to wildflowers. There was no way all of them could fit comfortably into the Airstream.
Michael spoke up first. His mind flared with suspicious and fear that mingled around him. A flash of distrust burned through his aura. The sight of it nauseated Regi. He took a deep steadying breath and looked past the man and the soothing colors of the sunset.
“You don’t look how I expected a wizard to look.” Michael laughed, as if to suggest it was a joke.
Regi still couldn’t look at the man. He looked at Ann when he answered. Her aura flickered with soothing traces of hopefulness amid the sadness. He wanted to fan her hope. “Wizard, sorcerer, magician, psychic, all of these words fail to describe who I am. I’m not a Gandalf of any color. I don’t have any spell books. I can’t mutter some sort of incantation that will teleport your daughter here.”
“Then what good are you!” Michael ran his hands through his hair. He looked at his wife then leveled a finger at Spencer. “Why’d you bring us out here?”
“Cool it.” Spencer approached Michael. She didn’t lay her hands on him but she looked him squarely in the eyes. “Cool it now. Regi’s a friend of mine and what he can do is miraculous and it costs him more than you can imagine. So just cool it. Oh, and for the record, I didn’t tell Regi that your child was a daughter.”
That caught Michael’s attention. His protests died on his lips. He looked at her, at Regi and then over at Ann. He took his wife’s hand. A tiny bit of hope from her aura spilled into his, dousing the distrust somewhat. It made it easier for Regi to look at the man.
“I’m sorry your daughter has been taken. I may be able to help you find the truth of what has happened, but the truth isn’t always comfortable. It isn’t always easy. I find the truth of things. That’s the magic I possess.”
“Truth.” Ann’s voice was hardly more than a whisper.
“Just the truth.” Regi looked out at the sunset. He looked back at the couple. He didn’t want them here with their minds and auras demanding his attention. Spencer’s on the other hand, she felt soothing. Comforting. He didn’t pay too much attention. He didn’t want to pry but she helped him. Like the dogs helped him, but in a different way. “I can’t do this by myself. I serve as a guide of sorts. A protector. ”
“What do we have to do?”
Regi spread his hands and looked up at the darkening sky. “We need to sleep and I will help you discover the truth of what happened to your daughter.”
Suspicion flared up again in Michael’s aura, mixed with distrust. “Sleep? Out here? How is any of this going to help?”
Ann spoke before either Regi or Spencer could say anything. She touched her husband’s arm. “We are going to try this.”
“I brought the camping gear.” Spencer jabbed her finger back at the path. “It’s in the truck. I’ll bring it up.”
“I’ll help you,” Regi said.
They walked through the tall grasses with Spencer in the lead. Genghis and Khan ranged around them through the grass, their minds filled with curiosity and wonder at everything they smelled. It made Regi smile. Of course that’s the moment Spencer looked back at him.
“What are you smiling about?”
The smile vanished. “Nothing.”
“You were smiling.”
Regi shrugged. Spencer shook her head and kept walking. She was aware of him behind her. He shifted his attention to avoid prying deeper. The light was failing fast but there were enough stars and moonlight to light the clearing. As they went beneath the trees even that light disappeared and the darkness enveloped them.
“Just a sec.” He heard Spencer pulling her flashlight free from her belt and waited. She clicked it on. “There. That’s better.”
Regi stayed silent. He didn’t mind the dark and he knew the path well. It’d be little issue to walk in but he let her have her light. Khan ran past them with Genghis hot on his heels. Beneath the trees the road wasn’t as overgrown yet and there was more room to spread out. He moved up next to Spencer.
“How is your family?” he asked, politely. Spencer’s two boys must be getting taller than her now. They took after their father who had died in the line of duty overseas.
“The boys are good. They’d love to come out here and camp. Maybe do some fishing.”
It sounded nice. Regi pictured relaxing with Spencer and the boys. Just enjoying their company. Too bad that was just a fantasy. They’d tried it once. His head hurt for two days afterwards.
“Maybe some time.”
“I know that tone. You’re just trying to be polite. Forget I mentioned it Regi.”
He touched her arm, only for a second. Her face turned up to him. “I don’t want to forget. I’m not good around people. It is difficult enough with one. Several people, that’s hard.”
“So you’re going to live your life as a hermit?”
“It’s worked for others.”
Spencer shook her head and walked away.
At the end of the drive several big rocks blocked the drive. Past that was Spencer’s black SUV. She unlocked the back and started pulling out the camping gear without saying another word. He didn’t need her to say anything. Not with the disappointment and tension tinting her normally calming aura. He picked up the tents and a couple sleeping bags, tucking the bags first beneath his arms and then holding onto the tent bags. Spencer picked up the rest of the gear and the last sleeping bag.
The silence lasted all the way back to the clearing. Genghis and Khan showed up from their romp just as they reached the grass and raced ahead. Even across the clearing Regi keenly felt the Smiths’ emotions. He walked into it anyway. For their child’s sake.
Crickets sang in the field while he worked on setting up the tents. The dogs lay down in their usual places in front of the Airstream. He erected both tents close to the trailer.
“What do we do?” Ann asked.
“Sleep,” Regi said. “Just go to sleep.”
“You’re not going to chant or dance around a fire?” Michael asked, his tone sarcastic. “No smoking peace pipes?”
“That’s not how my magic works, but if it makes you feel better be my guest. Try not to set the whole place on fire. I’ll be going to bed now. The sooner you do, the better.” Regi looked at Spencer. “Good night Cali.”
She met his gaze and he saw the tension drain from her aura. She smiled. “Good night.”
He went back into the Airstream, ignoring Michael’s angry whispered argument with his wife. Michael obviously didn’t like feeling out of control. The dogs got up and followed him into the Airstream. They waited for him to climb into the hammock and then spread out on the floor. Between the two of them they took up about all the space. He lay back on the hammock, reached over and flipped the light off. Outside he could feel the minds of his guests slowly settling down. Like it or not Michael must realize he wasn’t going to change anything tonight.
Regi closed his eyes. He breathed deep. He claimed none of the labels applied to him but there was one that fit. Magic. It had always been part of him. He’d known things about people. The truth of who they were. Over time it became harder and harder to bear. He isolated himself as much as possible but still they came.
He felt the magic grow. It flowed out along his limbs, crawling over the hammock beneath him. The hammock didn’t change. The Airstream remained. Even so Regi felt like he had moved to another place. He blinked and sat up in the hammock with that sense of dislocation persisting. He swung his legs down towards the floor.
Genghis glowed with a rich amber light. Khan glowed with more of a healthy greenish light, like that from Spring plants. Their light illuminated the Airstream and caused shadows to dance and twist. Regi looked at the world with new eyes as he stood up. Parts of the Airstream looked covered in patches of some sort of scaly white scabs. It was a kind of other-worldly fungus that grew in spots where metal was fatigued. He scrapped it off sometimes but it always grew back.
The dogs panted happily at him. Khan sat up. “Going out, are you?”
Genghis rolled over. “Can we come?”
“Of course.” Regi opened the door and the dogs ran on ahead. He stepped down into the cool night air into a field transformed.
Fairies lit the grasses like stars from above. They floated around just above the tops of the waving grass. Dozens clustered on the tents canvas, licking off the dew. Up close Regi could see through their lights to their chitinous bodies that gleamed with a rainbow of colors. Realizing they’d been seen the fairies took off in a buzzing cloud. The dogs ran around the tents snorting the fairy dust.
“Stop that,” Regi told them. “It’s a disgusting habit.”
“You should try it, Man.” Khan flopped over and rolled in the dust. “Nothing like it.”
“Don’t wake them,” Regi warned.
He walked over to the Smith’s tent. At his gesture the zipper parted silently. Both Michael and Ann lay sleeping in separate bags. Ann lay on her back with her mouth open and a soft snore. Michael had curled into a tight ball within his bag so that only the top of his head stuck out.
Regi stuck out both hands and made a grabbing motion. He yanked back. Michael and Ann both stumbled up onto their feet, tripping on the sleeping bags. They had to duck to avoid the low tent ceiling. Both were dressed in pajamas, Michael’s stripped and Ann wearing blue pajamas decorated with clouds.
“Come on,” Regi told them.
Confusion and fright flared in their auras but they followed. His command compelled them out of the tent into the clearing. He left them gapping at the transformation of the clearing and went to Cali’s tent. The zipper parted at his gesture. She looked completely relaxed, twisted on her side. She still wore her uniform and gear. She knew what asking for his help meant.
With her his gestures took on a gentler movement as if he was reaching out to pick up a baby. That’s all it took. She sat up and crawled out of her tent. He enjoyed watching her grin grow when she saw the fairies dancing above the grass.
“It’s so beautiful! I didn’t know if they’d be here this time. Are they always here?”
“Not always.” Regi turned to the Smiths. “Are you ready to find out the truth?”
“Of course not,” Genghis said.
“Humans are never ready for the truth,” Khan observed.
Michael stared at the dogs. His mouth fell open but nothing came out. Regi walked over to the couple and place his hands on their shoulders. “Ignore the dogs. Pay attention to me.”
Michael’s head snapped up and he looked at Regi with real fright. Ann’s brow wrinkled. Tears filled the corners of her eyes.
Regi gestured for Spencer. “Join hands.”
“This should be fun,” Khan said.
Shush. Go play!
The dogs looked at one another, tongues lolling out of their mouths and then they took off across the clearing. Fairies scattered out of their path like leaves on the wind.
Spencer joined them and took Michael’s hand on one side and Regi’s on the other. Regi held his free hand out to Ann. Unlike Spencer’s warm, confident strength her hand felt soft and limp in his. She took Michael’s other hand. Regi looked across the space between him and Michael and locked eyes with the other man.
“Don’t let go. We’re going to go back now, back to the moment when your daughter was taken. We will discover the truth. Just remember not to let go. Understand?”
Michael nodded. Ann’s jaw trembled but she nodded sharply. Spencer squeezed Regi’s hand.
“Okay. Here we go.” Regi reached out for the slipstream of time. He found it and locked onto it.
It felt like a rope pulling at his insides. He didn’t resist but he held onto his charges. The clearing vanished in a blur. A riot of color that lasted only a second before everything snapped into focus. Somewhere, some when else.
A suburban ranch house, nothing fancy. Blue with white trim. The lawn needed to be mowed. A beachball and a small child’s wading pool sat at the center of the yard. A tiny delicate-looking girl with black ringlets stood in the driveway, in front of a closed garage door. She wore a bright yellow dress. She swung her arms and sang to herself in a high voice.
“Marrry had a litttle lambb!” Over and over, she repeated those words.
Beside him Ann sobbed. It seemed they stood not four feet away. Regi could feel the warm sun on his skin. Spencer had turned her head away to look past Regi.
“Look,” she said.
Regi turned his head. A navy blue van with no back windows drove slowly down the street. TER883 on the license plate. A white man in sunglasses and a black baseball cap sat behind the wheel. The van slowed even more as it came up to the driveway. It sat for a second and Regi could feel the man’s eyes on the girl.
Leaving the van running the man opened his door. He got out and went around the van to the back and opened the doors. Then he reappeared holding a fluffy stuffed lamb.
“Hey there,” he called out.
When Mary turned he held out the lamb. “Is this yours? I found it.”
“Mary! No!” Ann cried.
Neither the girl or the man heard her. Regi squeezed her hand. “Don’t let go. We can see what happened. That’s all.”
His head throbbed and his chest hurt. Soon it would be hard to breathe. The pull on his midsection was growing more intense. He couldn’t keep them here long.
Mary walked closer to the man. “You found her?”
“That’s right. And then I was going past and heard you singing. I thought she might be yours.” He straightened up and let his arm drop to his side. He shrugged. “I guess not.”
He turned as if to leave.
Mary ran right up to him and tugged on his sleeve. “She is mine!”
He looked down at the girl and stepped away. Back towards the rear of the van. He shook his head. “I think you’re just saying that because you want her now. You didn’t lose her, did you?”
Mary bit her lip. She walked up closer to the man. Regi could hardly hear here answer. “No. But can I have her?”
“Sure.” The man tossed the lamb into the back of the van. While Mary stared in shock at the back of the van he reached down, covered her mouth and carried her up into the back of the van. A second later the doors closed.
Regi couldn’t hold on much longer. He looked at Spencer. “Enough?”
Spencer nodded. “Yeah, I think I’ve got enough to ID him.”
“Mary!” Michael cried out. The van had started moving.
Regi let go. Everything blurred for a second and then went black. He woke up instantly and sat up in the hammock. The dogs lifted their heads and he could feel their disappointment that the adventure hadn’t lasted longer. Regi got down and eased between them to the Airstream door. As soon as it opened he heard Ann crying. His headache threatened to blind him but he made his way down to do what he could to help them through the night.
Two days later he looked up from his book at the feel of a mind on the path. He was feeling better today, first time since the other night. He really didn’t want any company.
Still, he went out into the clearing and watched Spencer come out of the woods. She wasn’t in uniform today. Instead she wore a long cream-colored dress and had let her hair down. And he discovered that her presence didn’t set off warning bells in his head. He met her halfway.
“We caught him.” She took Regi’s hands. “Mary is okay, scared, but he didn’t hurt her. Had a room all made up in his house for her. It was probably only a matter of time before he did something, though. They’re still digging up remains out of the crawlspace.”
Regi shook his head and looked at the trees and the grass. “I don’t know how you do it.”
Cali laughed. “Funny, I was going to say the same thing.”
Regi looked down at her open face and pulled her close. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “Magic.”
This story is the 61st weekly short story release, written in February 2010. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story The Time That Remains.