Wolf Penned In
This story is set in White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming role-playing game universe. While the plot and many of the characters are mine, everything else is theirs.
Theme for this section: "Randy Scouse Git" by the Monkees
"We think we found that Chrysalis from the day the Pride of Erin was reaved," said Leo, finally locating Bill at the Campus Revel during lunch.
"Good news, I take it?" said Bill, around a mouthful of roast beef sandwich. "Wait a minute; what do you mean by 'we,' paleface?"
"Theodora and I and a number of other students from the Duke's school have been working on the project," said Leo. "She - Theodora - just called me a few minutes ago with the news, and asked me to round up the usual suspects. We're to meet her at the Court of Glass at one to get the details."
"Can't make it," said Bill, nodding. "More classes this afternoon and some urgent assignments."
"Good. Uh, can you give me a ride? Plucky already left and Judy borrowed my car for an errand."
"Not possible," said Bill, with a smile and a shrug.
Later, in the library at the mansion, Leo called their informal (well, for an event organized by a Sidhe it was informal) meeting to order, then gave the floor to the Satyr.
"Okay, I may have found that Chrysalis from a few days ago," said Theodora, folding a newspaper to a particular article. She held it up for them to see while giving them the digest version from memory. "A local businessman, Pierson Gambolle, made an appointment with his teenage son's doctor, citing 'lack of energy and laziness.' When Gambolle arrived one of his aides carried the obviously unconscious boy into the waiting room. The receptionist immediately called the doctor, who made a quick check then had her call an ambulance. Gambolle protested the 'unnecessary expense' but the doctor insisted. At the hospital the boy was diagnosed as being dehydrated and possibly abused, because he had several fresh bruises and scrapes. He was also in a mild, persistent vegetative state. That is, a light coma. No physical cause for the latter has been determined, though doctors are saying that it might have been caused by some great emotional shock. They thought at first this might be connected to those mysterious heart seizure deaths which have been plaguing the city recently. Mr. Gambolle says Marcham simply lay down and went to sleep in the middle of the floor 'like a baby.' From the CAT scans and EEG readings doctors believe that he has a good chance to recover. All that's needed is time and perhaps the right stimulus."
"That doesn't sound anything like a botched Chrysalis, no sir," said Plucky, nodding.
"Gambolle insists that he has never done anything to harm the boy, and is influential enough that without more evidence no charges of abuse can be made," said Leo. "He's also insisting that there's nothing wrong with the boy, that he just didn't want to 'wake up and face reality.' He says the diagnosis and prognosis are 'fancy talk from lazy people who don't know anything about real life.' He protested the boy staying in the hospital, but his lawyer advised him to leave Marcham in proper medical care to prevent bad publicity and possible action by child welfare. We don't know for a fact that Marcham was the source of the Chrysalis, but as best we can figure, the time the boy 'went to sleep' is exactly when the Chrysalis we sensed failed."
"Isn't that the guy who sponsored that baby beauty pageant?" said Plucky, scowling.
"Well, they weren't babies," said Leo. "I think the age range was six to ten. My own uncle was involved with that, I'm ashamed to say."
"Those things are so... Sick! Making little girls dress like sluts, and..."
"No argument here, Teddy," said Leo, looking disgusted.
"Don't call me that," said the buxom goat gal, with a pleading look.
"So," said Bill, "do we visit the father or the son first?"
"Let's find out A) if Mr. Gambolle will see us and B) when visiting hours are at the hospital. By which I mean we probably want to sneak in afterwards, when things are quieter."
At Theodora's suggestion they approached the father as students working on a school newsletter article about him and his son. Pierson Gambolle surprised them by being very amenable to their request.
"I'm always pleased to see young people showing a bit of initiative," he stated, in his rapid, clipped speech.
Even over the phone, though, Theodora felt an odd chill...
"Okay, got some background on the man," said Leo, after Theodora reported her results.
"Pierson Gambolle had to grow up fast when his father died, and figures it made a man out of him. He doesn't see any reason for anyone else to have it any easier than he did. According to him that's just coddling a person. He has made a second career of helping children and parents, ostensibly to teach youngsters responsibility and train them for adult life. The Baby Beauty Pageant he organized is a prime example. However, some people say that behind his professional, all business exterior Gambolle is more a monster than a man. That he's a social misfit who hates childhood and would see it eliminated if he could."
"Eeewww..." said Plucky, shivering.
"So who's going?" said Bill.
"You, Plucky, and I think Theodora. I need to do some more checking."
"Or you just want to avoid contact," said Theodora, shuddering. "I can't believe you're sending poor, innocent little me off with a pair of Pookas."
"A pair of Pookas perfectly placed for peculiar perambulations," said Plucky, proudly.
The home was, indeed, in the upscale neighborhood they suspected as the location of the Chrysalis. It was a large and imposing structure, in no way modest, but it was curiously unkempt and plain. As if the owner hadn't known what to do with it after purchase. They were met at the door by Pierson Gambolle himself. And they almost didn't go in.
Gambolle insisted on shaking hands with all of them. His touch alone made them shrink back, draining as it did the Glamour from them. With his gaunt frame covered in burned-looking flesh and his death's head, insincere smile, he looked... lifeless. Used up. In spite of his display of vigor he was obviously someone near the end of his life. He even smelled like he might already be dying.
Inside, his home was beyond austere; the word 'barren' came to mind. The place was a desert of imagination and fun. The furniture was plain and cheap and scarce, and there were almost no other furnishings. There were no photos or paintings on the walls, and not even a stereo. A small, old TV set on a bare stand was alone in a corner. Theodora, Plucky and Bill fought to keep from fleeing.
"We're working on a project for the school paper, about your son," said Bill, after they had been ushered inside.
"Well, it's good to see young people with some ambition!" snapped Mr. Gambolle. "Most folks your age are too lazy to amount to anything!"
"Thank you, sir," said Bill, putting his Pooka talents for avoiding the truth to good use. "We were particularly interested in your son's scholarship to..."
"I can't believe he would do something like that to me!"
"Sir?" asked Bill, his tone strained.
"Boy convinced me that he'd scored some sort of major goal, like a sports scholarship. Turns out he got in to learn music!"
"But, sir," said Plucky, timidly, "he was admitted to an advanced program for gifted..."
"A fancy way of saying queer!" Gambolle snapped. "I don't want any son of mine in anything to do with those!"
Gambolle kept them there for over an hour, extolling the virtues of hard work and acceptance of responsibility at an early age and excoriating the way society "coddles children these days." If directly asked he would give a bit more information on his son, then immediately change the subject to something so banal the three Changelings were soon feeling a bit nauseous. It wasn't that he was trying to divert them from talking about his son; it simply was obvious that he considered his harpings more important. More important than talking about the boy, and perhaps more important than Marcham, himself. The suffering Changelings finally managed to escape by pleading homework.
"Glah!" said Plucky, as they headed to Bill's Fairlaine.
"I'll second that," said Bill. "I am very glad to be out of there. No lie."
"I've heard about them, but that's the first one I've actually seen," said Theodora. She shivered. "An Autumn Person."
"How can something so barren of soul actually live?" wondered Plucky.
"And why hasn't a mob with torches already gotten rid of him?" agreed Bill.
"You know what's really strange?" said Theodora. "That guy's only 48 years old."
"I think," said Bill, solemnly, "that we all need a drink. Preferably something from the Pride of Erin."
"Pure alcohol for you," said Plucky. "Your driving is good enough as it is."
* * *
Theme for this section: "Dream On" by Aerosmith
"I heard from a couple of people who managed to locate chimeras which were in the area when the Chrysalis began," said Leo, after they returned to the mansion. They didn't tell him about the stopover. "They were attracted by the surge of Glamour, then fled when Banality came rushing back in. They say there was a human with the Changeling, who somehow managed to short-circuit the Chrysalis through sheer denial that anything unusual was happening."
"That sounds like something Gambolle would do," said Theodora, glumly.
"So that soulless beef jerk of a father saw Mark begin his Chrysalis," said Bill, nodding as he thought things through, "and instead of trying to help denied there was a problem. Denied there was anything out of the ordinary. And caused the Dream Dance to stumble and fall."
"A poetic but appropriate simile," said Leo. "There is, of course, still a chance he - Marcham - could be prompted to finish, or even start over. But we won't know until someone actually examines him."
"Y'know, as much as I hate to defend him, I don't think the old man abused Mark," said Theodora. "Physically, I mean. The Dream Dance can be physically traumatic even without interruption. More like a convulsion than a dance, in some cases. And the doctors said there was no evidence of long-term abuse; just some recent bruises and abrasions."
"People who know Mark say he will study straight through for days with hardly a break, finish what he's working on, then party 'till dawn to relax. Sound typical of any kithain we know?"
"A lot of satyrs are like that," said Theodora, confirming Leo's guess. "That doesn't mean he's one."
"They also say Gambolle has been pushing his son for his whole life. The boy's only 14 and has already won a number of scholastic competitions and earned offers from several institutions. Most of them rejected at Gambolle's insistence. He's also very good at sports, another way in which he is Satyr-like. But the whole time he has also been going his own way, while staying close enough to what his father expected to avoid serious confrontations. Until now."
"We need to get in there and see Marcham Gambolle soonest," said Bill, solemnly.
"From what I've been able to determine," said Leo, "the hospital basically shuts down at seven. Only the staff needed for monitoring stations and handling medical problems. There's no emergency room, no hospice."
"So, we take some time to grab a meal and do some planning, then we go in," said Plucky. "Simple."
"Yep," said Bill, sighing.
They could tell something magically unusual was going on as they approached the building. An number of chimeras of a type not normal for such a place were hovering about, mostly on one end and up well off the ground.
"Dis must be de place," said Plucky.
Bill parked on a mostly deserted side street. Using various types of Changeling magic they hid themselves, bypassed the alarm and lock on a fire door, and took the stairs up to the floor Leo had determined with his research. As a rule, Changelings don't like places such as hospitals. They can perceive, directly, the imprint left by those who have suffered and died in them. Cannot not see that aspect of reality without deliberately turning their senses away from the chimerical and risking being lost to banality. The secret was to focus on the marks left by the joy of recovery, the glory of birth, the release of suffering ended. Carefully, quietly, they eased the door open and peered into the hallway. There was a nurse's station not far from the stairway. Applying a bit more Glamour, they made the woman there not notice them as they crept out and went down the dimly-lit hall.
"This is it," murmured Leo, carefully pushing the door open a bit just to make sure. "Private room. Single occupant. Looks like a boy in his early teens."
"No chimerical seeming?" said Bill.
"I... I'm not sure." He held the door open and let them in.
They could see one, once the door closed and they had a chance to examine the boy more closely.
"Looks like me, five years ago," Bill whispered, staring at the shape on the bed with an eerie feeling of dislocation.
The others, who didn't know the details of Bill's own Chrysalis, gave him various looks, but then returned their attention to the subject of the moment.
He did, indeed, have a chimerical aspect. It was vague, weak, a pale thing. But it was there.
"So he is a Satyr," said Theodora, fascinated.
The heart monitor beeped steadily. Marcham breathed steadily. There was no reaction, no sign he noticed they were there.
"And now we leave," said Leo, nodding. "We tell the Duke what we know and let older and wiser heads decide what, if anything, to do with the knowledge."
A great, suffocating weight seemed to leave them as they quickly closed the last bit of distance to Bill's car. The old vehicle's chimerical aspect seemed brighter and more distinct than usual in contrast to the gloom of the hospital. It's square-jawed, matter-of-fact expression might even have been almost a smile. They piled in, the warm leather of the seats welcoming them, remembering their individual shapes.
"Why so pensive?" said Theodora, speaking to Leo as Bill fired up the engine.
"Just thinking about how variable Chrysalises are," said the Scathatch Sidhe. "His Chrysalis was pretty spectacular, even though aborted. Mine was protracted but relatively mild, and the Dream Dance ended quickly and smoothly."
"They spotted mine from orbit," muttered Bill, as he shifted into first.
Bill took an indirect route, just because. "Cruising" had been banned for years in many large cities, which just went to show how disconnected the rulers were from the ruled. Not only had the law done nothing to stop people from driving around just to drive around, most of those ticketed had turned out to be respectable citizens who had been able to get the ticket revoked by insisting they had done nothing wrong, and challenging the officer to prove they had. Since any unhurried driving trip could qualify as cruising, these laws usually went unenforced by pragmatic police, except as a way of stopping someone they had suspicions about. Bill had few worries on that account.
So Bill and company were cruising around an area popular with college kids on a Friday night. He kept the speed reasonable, which meant they could wave to and have brief verbal exchanges with others, who were either sitting, walking or also driving. The windows were down, letting a nice breeze blow through the old hardtop's interior. It felt good, after the hospital.
"I don't believe it," said Leo, sitting up. "That's my Uncle Thomas! What's he doing out here, especially this time of night?"
"Currently, it looks like he's unlocking his car do..."
Bill's droll statement was cut off as he - and every other Changeling in the area - suddenly came to fierce attention. Something faded into view behind the man. Something large, vaguely insectoid and dire. Something hungry. The great, panting beast lifted a chimerical claw, which suddenly lanced out, spearing Uncle Thomas through the chest. The Chimerical and mundane aspects of reality diverged. In "real life" Uncle Thomas gasped, dropped his keys and clutched his chest before collapsing to the pavement. What the Changelings saw was vastly more horrible.
The monster jerked its claw back, and impaled on it was a ghostly double of Uncle Thomas. The thing brought the squirming, screaming specter to its mouth and bit the head off. The rest of the apparition soon followed, in large chunks.
Horns blew behind them as a mundane driver protested Bill's sudden braking. The monster reacted by turning to look at the source of the noise. Those in the Fairlaine shuddered and dropped down, trying instinctively to hide. Fortunately, the monster seemed not to notice them. It finished its meal, then turned and walked down the street, fading from view as it went. Leo immediately jumped out and ran over to his uncle.
"D-dead," he stuttered, after a brief check.
(Theodora Hobbs' great-grandfather is Roy Hobbs, naturally. ;-)
This document is Copyright 2010 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to post or reprint this story may contact the author at: email@example.com