The Changeling chronicles Act Two
Ep. 11: Nowhere (I)
The boy held the key in his hand, a big metal thing with an ugly skull on it.
“What is this?”
“It’s the key to the door that keeps all the night things locked away.”
“I don’t want it.”
“But you’ve got it. It’s yours to look after.”
And he looked after the key for seventy-five years. Then he died. During his time with the key, he’d come to decide he wouldn’t be passing it on. There were bad dreams, headaches, but worst of all was the tight feeling in the back of him, always there and promising bad things.
When he died, nobody was left to keep the key, so it dissolved. The door also dissolved and all the night things escaped. They spilled out into the town where the boy then man had lived, and that town completely disappeared for three days and three nights.
Maps that had been printed long before the availability of GPS showed only a blank spot roughly the size and shape of the town. Those who tried to navigate to an address in that town using GPS spent hours driving in circles.
When the town reappeared, it was completely empty. Journalists called the town Nowhere. Eventually, some enterprising people turned the town into a tourist attraction. The stories about nowhere and the world at large moved on.
From time to time, a tourist would go missing. Usually last seen on the fringes of the tour group, their picture would be featured in news stories for a time before the world forgot them. The number of disappearing tourists got too high, and Nowhere was shut down. It was also forgotten.
It sat neglected, abandoned, a genuine ghost town in a world filled with genuine ghost towns. Then, someone wished for a starship to escape the world. On the day the starship launched, Nowhere disappeared again. Maps and GPS’s blanked out like before, and every story that had been written about Nowhere blinked out of existence. People reading stories about Nowhere when it disappeared found themselves Rick-rolled with no memory of what they’d clicked to end up watching that video.
One reporter was in the middle of recording the VoiceOver for a twentieth anniversary special on nowhere when it ceased to exist. This reporter, not liked by his colleagues and with awards for many of his stories, found himself in the middle of a sentence about Nowhere that had no beginning and no end. He stood there for several seconds, mouth opening and closing as groped for words that were no longer words at all. This reporter took early retirement and never spoke again.
For a place that never existed, according to all physical records, Nowhere managed to do a lot of damage when it disappeared.
Ep. 12: Camouflage (I)
Nothing. I can’t define it, but I know it when I experience it. As soon as I talk about it, nothing becomes something. Pressure on my back, my neck ,my legs.
The pressure under my neck and legs is tighter somehow, more firm. I also hear soft humming. I open my eyes.
I’m being held in the arms of what feels like the biggest, warmest person there is. She’s a woman.
I try to ask where I am, who she is. No words come.
“Awe. That’s part of the camouflage. Just think it at me.
“Yes. Just like that. You’re in a safe place. A secret place.
“I have used many names. Right now, I am partial to Skyler.
“Why can’t you talk?”
She holds up a mirror. I see her. I see the hand she’s using to hold the mirror, the arm attached to that hand. The other arm is holding…
“Why a pink dragon? Dragons are very special here. There are a lot of them, but there’s only really one that matters. It’s lost as it happens.
“How’d you find your way here when you erased the coordinates of this place from your ship’s memory? I have my ways. Basically, I figure you’re better off here with me than out there. Your starship isn’t long for this world, I’m afraid.”
I just stared at this woman.
“Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to pass the time. Tonight’s game night. I’ll bring you with me—Ashley, my new pet dragon. Named after the Dragon Ashley, who looks after those who are… Just a little different.
“What games will we play? It’s my turn to pick the games, and we’ll play any game we want… Except poker. I hate poker.”
Ep. 13: The Ship (I)
Genie sat, wondering for the millionth time how it had gone so wrong so fast. Keep Changeling from waking up—so simple. They and Paige had taken turns challenging him, making him bend his reality more and more.
Paige sang the same song over and over until Changeling stuck her lips together just by thinking about it.
Genie locked him in one of the bathrooms. Changeling walked through the door, leaving little bits of himself (nothing too significant) behind him.
Finally it went too far. Working together, Genie and Paige had made it so that to Changeling, everything looked three times bigger than it was. Changeling flew up to his captain’s chair, then went to land in it.
As he fell to the chair, said chair actually the same distance from the ground as it had been, Changeling almost woke up. Genie felt everything around them waver, deciding whether it would be allowed to continue to exist or if it and everyone on it would go poof.
To keep anything like that from happening again, they knocked Changeling out. They kept him that way. They each took turns watching over him.
And then he changed.
Genie saw the pink dragon in Changeling’s bed.
Genie wondered how they were going to tell Paige and Alex that their starship, the sanctuary in the middle of what was essentially the big empty, was being influenced by someone who, as Genie knew from experience, was a bad loser. Especially when it came to poker.
Ep. 14: Nowhere II
Once upon a time, the people of Nowhere lived in a town that physically existed. They had jobs, spouses, friends, favorite foods and TV shows, lives. When their town went Nowhere, the people had no sense anything was wrong.
When they woke up on their first morning in Nowhere, they believed they’d always lived there. If someone looked more like something out of a creature feature than a person, or if someone suddenly had the ability to move things with their mind, that kind of thing was always happening. They took their fictional history and made it into a tourist attraction, run by a Frankenstein’s Monster who just answered to FM.
They live this way now. To them, their town is the only town. They never ask what’s outside because it never occurs to them. News stories, weather reports, sports scores? No such animals in this forest. For these people living off the map, Nowhere is forever. They are forever. Every day is just like the one before it… Until it’s not.
ep. 15: Camouflage II
She is gone. Skyler is gone. She is gone and I am in her apartment quite literally in the middle of Nowhere.
I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere. Skyler is gone. I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere, Skyler is gone and I know The Truth.
I’m stuck in the middle of Nowhere. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with The Truth. Nowhere with no Skyler.
No Skyler, no Paige, no Alex, no Genie. The middle of Nowhere with The Truth and nobody to live/work through it with me.
There’s a sound in the other room. A sound in the other room of the apartment where I am alone. A cat’s face appears from around the corner. Alex.
If Alex is here, where’s everyone else? Where’s the ship?
The good news is I’m no longer stuck in the form of a little pink dragon.
The bad news is it doesn’t matter.
The good news is nothing matters…
Ep. 16: The Ship IISkyler watches the space pirates drag Paige from the ship. That’s all right, she thinks, it’s not the best way, but she has a chance at making her own way.
She finds Alex, immobile on the ship’s deck. He’s one of the ones she collects. She snaps her fingers and he goes Nowhere.
She finds Genie cowering in their chamber. Of course they are. She takes a second, and she looks like The Sandman, more mythological being than popular comic.
“You were most unwise, former friend.” She says. “Bullshitting your way into winning a hand of poker is one thing. But you knew. You knew he was mine and you got him to wish for a little rocket.
“And then, then you found another one of… My folk, and you took him, too.
“Look at me.
“Look. At. Me.”
Genie does, and Skyler makes sure they’re looking into her eyes. Their eyes come up double blanks eventually, but Genie asks a question before that happens. They ask how she can do what she does. Why is she of all people got to choose how it came out in the end.
It’s a good question, but Genie will never know the answer. There’s enough of them left to pilot the ship. It travels for a long, long time, Skyler right beside them. She should see this kind of thing through to the end, after all.
The ship crash-lands on a rock somewhere in the fictional space through which it traveled. Nobody should survive. Genie does. They spend a long, long time living alone, thinking they got the better end of the deal.
After some time, people begin to populate the planet. After awhile, they’ve done enough of what people do for Genie to realize they haven’t won. Instead, they get to go through the whole ordeal again. After more time, they realize they have a chance if they just play their cards even better the next time around.
Ep. 17: She Loved Monsters
She is Skyler because she no longer remembers her real name, but she can if she wants to. What she remembers is that she always managed to be different. These are her favorite memories.
- One of the volunteers at her daycare hand-made and gave the children stuffed bunnies one Easter. She shunned it for a stuffed Frankenstein’s monster doll she had adopted from the toy box when the other children were too scared of it to play with it. Wouldn’t even give it up when the teacher made her sit in time out while the other students had circle time.
- She wrote an essay in 4th grade about living in a spooky castle when she grew up. Her and all her monster friends. (She always sides with the monsters when she watches horror movies). Her teacher sent a note to her parents expressing concern over such inappropriate ambitions. Her parents, believing she would grow out of it, didn’t punish her. Teacher made her sit out at recess until she wrote an essay about getting married and having a family.
- In 6th grade, she realizes she is normal and her friends are the aliens. The boys are foolish, overly aggressive, or some combination of the two. The girls are giggly, fascinated with the boys and just impossible. She makes friends with the works of H.P. Lovecraft and other books that are considered an unhealthy fascination at best.
- She enters high school as a loner. She exists that way until the spring of 10th grade when—no. She can’t look at that.
After… After that, she stands alone in the dark, surrounded by a world she neither understands nor wants to live in. She stays in the dark for awhile. When she comes out of the dark, she understands that, while she doesn’t understand them and maybe never will, she wants to help people. Because she only just found her way out of the dark and certain things in the dark can make one have a truly unique way of looking at things, she decides she wants to be a reaper when she dies. She is recruited a decade later.
Ep. 18: Paige
Surrounded by space pirates. There are those who, after being informed of her life so far, would argue that next to disappearing from a ball pit somewhere in Suburbia and waking up on a starship and needing to deal with those circumstances, space pirates shouldn’t be a big deal.
First, she would tell those people if she wasn’t immobilized, I don’t remember much about the ball pit. Second, not being able to move AT ALL while space pirates decide what to do with you is plenty scary. She couldn’t even have a proper panic because she couldn’t move. The space cows were on the other side of the deck, and they seemed calm enough that Paige guessed they’d been here awhile.
One of her humanoid kidnappers steps close to her. They snap their fingers and her mouth can move.
“Here’s the deal,” the space pirate says. “We want the lost dragon. We saw you with a dragon. Where is it?”
Space pirate narrows their eyes. Paige’s whole body is in agony. She wants to scream, but she can’t move her mouth again. She can, apparently, cry tears. She does. A lot.
Later, Space Pirate says, “Both you and the cows know where the dragon is. The first one to give us that information lives.”
Everybody leaves the deck. It’s just her and the cows. She doesn’t have the information she needs to survive.
Well, she thinks, I ended up here last time I died. I suppose I’ll just have to try again.
It never occurs to her to wonder what might happen if nobody has the answer the pirates want.
Ep. 19: You Must Look
She’s alone. All of her training, the training she needs to be a reaper is complete. All, that is, but one thing.
“Your job,” Teacher says, “is to help people transition from living, having a physical body to dead, being not but a floating ball of consciousness. How can you do that effectively if you can’t even work through your own shit?”
So Skyler looks. She can remember him, but not his name. It is the spring of her second year in high school and this is what she sees:
- Him in a hospital bed. The doctors say too many things are broken in too many places and it’s just a matter of time.
- Him saying, “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing what you’re reading. I love Stephen King.”
- Them, two as one, laughing at each other’s jokes, finishing each other’s sentences, One helping the other with math homework while the other offers suggestions on how to make a history paper that earns a B into one that earns an A.
- Her phone ringing in the middle of the night. His mom saying, “I’m sorry. There’s been a terrible accident.”
- Her being asked, “So… Are you two going out or what?” and she shrugs her shoulders because yes, she does care for him. Yes, she feels she understands him better than she has anyone else. From a mathematical perspective, everything’s there. 2+2=4… Except 2+2=x.
- A funeral procession, her on the outer most edges because his family can’t—won’t understand they were that close.
- Her saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t think of you that way. I don’t think of anyone that way.”
- Him incredulous, angry, sad, angry, storming out and driving away in his mom’s car.
- Her phone ringing in the middle of the night. There’s been a terrible accident.
- A police interview where she is uncompromisingly honest. It’s hard and she does it anyway.
- His mom calling her many names, all of them meant to devalue women. She’s a woman, how can she be like this?
- Social media posts–He will be missed, RIP, etc.
- Her being allowed to go to the funeral at the very last minute. His family is as cold as it is possible to be without actually being rude.
When Teacher opens the door she cries, “You son of a bitch!” And tackles them. Teacher is her first kill. It will not be the last.
Ep. 20: Sandman
Nobody connects her to the murder of Teacher. Turns out, teaching new reapers has many occupational hazards. She finishes training and goes straight to reaping.
She reaps old people, babies, teenagers, etc. She fails to note names and faces after awhile—they’re forgotten after she files her reports and gets the new soul where it needs to go. Reaping is something she does, a reaper is what she is. It is beguilingly uncomplicated.
It is a simple job, that is, until she finds Ashley standing in the dark on a bridge overlooking Urban America. Ashley is a teenager like Skyler was once. Ashley has just broken up with her partner after revealing she also wasn’t sexually attracted to them—just like Skyler did once. The partner has not been reaped and that’s something, but Skyler realizes that this spirit, Ashley’s spirit is hurting. Skyler has an idea.
“Jump.” she tells the teenager. “There’s a better place for you. I can build it. All Ace people all the time.”
“Of course you can. Save yourself the trouble. Come with me.” There is a more popular line from an old rock song, but Skyler can’t quite bring herself to use it she is behaving in a way that is irregular , but she is not a cornball..
“I can’t,” Ashley protests. “I’ll go to Hell.”
Skyler has failed to consider this point. She also knows that Ashley’s fears are not groundless.
“Just tell me this. If there was a place, if you didn’t have to get there this way, would you go?”
The result is not the glowing ball of light that is typical. Instead, Skyler holds a tiny glass dragon. It’s dismaying at first, then Skyler realizes this is a good thing. She has no idea where to take Ashley. She decides she will learn how to build a special place for her and those like her.
There are others. Taylor, Joshua, Andy, Foster, Drew and so on.
I’m a sandman! Skyler thinks. Maybe a sandwpman… Nah, that doesn’t have quite the same ring. Also, I’m a floating ball of consciousness with extra abilities, so does gender even matter? I guess not. I am a sandman. A sandman for Asexual people. I help them find a good dream—the best dream.
She has the worlds’ biggest dragon collection by the time her transgressions are discovered.
Ep. 21: Exiled
How nice of Them to let her be imprisoned on the rock she already calls home. Okay, They called it being exiled, but she may as well be locked up in a small room. Trapped on a rock floating in metaphysical outer space is actually worse. There’s nobody to talk to, nowhere to go, not even some version of cable TV.
She has managed to keep her dragon collection, so that’s something. They wanted her to release those who were “taken by force”, but it turned out she was made of sterner stuff than Them.
“You must release them. They must go to an appropriate place.”
“Don’t you understand, Child? You’ve made changelings out of these people. It’s worse than damnation!”
Being called Child pushes her over the edge. She concentrates, and They are banished from her rock, thus beginning her eternity of solitude.
She is on her way back from visiting the dragon collection(it’s never in the open in case They stop by for a surprise visit) when she finds it—a ginormous door set in the rock. If she could open it, the door would open upward, leaving a hole one could jump through or climb into if there’s a ladder, and who’s to say that’s out of the question? But she can’t open it. There’s a handle made from some kind of metal and pulling it does no good. Damn thing’s locked up tight.
She sits. She thinks about the door. She becomes angry with the door. It figures They’d exile her, then put a door in to make her think she can go somewhere, but then it doesn’t open. Next thing, she huffs, they’ll be sending visitors to stay the night and leave when she starts getting attached.
More from frustration than because she expects results, she lies down. Her ear just happens to be against the door. This is what she hears:
“What is this?”
“It’s the key to the door that keeps all the night things locked away.”
“I don’t want it.”
“But you’ve got it. It’s yours to look after.”
Typical of the world. Give a child a key to a door to literally nowhere and tell him he’s responsible for it. As if that’s not enough, you tell him monsters are behind the door so he’ll never open it.
She is disgusted. She is also intrigued.
I have time. I can figure out how to get the door open. Or maybe I can get him to open the door. I have plenty of time.
She goes to work. At some point during the work, she decides nowhere is as good a name for this place as any.
Ep. 22: Visitor
She asks again.
“How do you know?”
Genie says, “Because it’s worked out this way every time.”
She follows them into the cave just beyond the wreck that was this person’s starship. Besides all the makings of a simple dwelling on a rock in metaphysical outer space, there are photos of Skyler. Each shows her in various states of disarray, defeat, dejection. If, on the (night? Day? Time.) she had found the ship, she had known she might be told something like this, she would have left the ship where she’d found it. It already looked like it had been there for years and years, what’s a few more years and years?
“You can’t know that this time won’t be different. Help me open the door. Help me get off this rock… Or at least help me populate it.”
“I did that before. And the time before. And the time before that. Each time you build your town here, and each time you fail.”
“How do I fail?”
“Can’t tell you that. You always send me away before the end. I crash here and then you turn up years and years later.”
“I won’t send you away this time. Then you can tell me how I fail next time.”
And because some deals just sound too good for logical consideration , they both agree.
Later, between times.
“You set me up!”
“You knew I’d fail and let me build here anyway!”
“I knew you’d fail and forced me to help you build here.
“There’s one thing that came out of this.” Genie holds up a small dragon figurine. “This,” Genie says “is your friend… Whatever from high school. If you send me away, I destroy this. I destroy him.”
“You’re bluffed. This isn’t a game of poker. You lied!”
And she reaches out. And she penetrates their mind. When she finishes, Genie never needs to sleep. Can’t sleep.
Just like the last time. If I want to change this thing, I need to be the one to do something different.
Genie wakes the soul inside the tiny dragon, just enough for it to wish for things. Changeling’s third wish gets him a starship. When he leaves, Genie leaves with him.
Ep. 23: nowhere III
She hadn’t expected to pull a whole town through the door, but she’ll use what’s here to her advantage. Once she repairs things that were damaged during the move and gets everything else situated, she begins waking the souls she’s kept with her all this time. All these people, Asexuals living in a world made by an ace for aces. Her stability is much in question at this point, even to herself, but her abilities are undeniable.
She creates memories for them. Half believe she created the universe. Half believe the universe evolved. Because she’s free, she collects more souls, a few at a time, discretely. A third school of thought—nobody really knows how they got there and worrying about it doesn’t solve anything. From time to time, someone asks too many questions and she deals with them when she finds them.
On one of these occasions, she thinks to ask, “Why do you ask these questions? Nobody else.”
The blob, named Franklin of all things says< “I dreamed of a dragon that flies across the stars. People live in the dragon. They come from other worlds… Except one. One comes from here. He went with them to help them find …” But he can’t get it.
It’s enough. She finishes him off. She leaves that night in search of Genie and the ship.
Ep. 24: Camouflage III
I finish telling Alex everything. When Skyler showed it to me, she did it in the style of an ’80’s style video game, complete with pixelated images of the characters, blips sound effects and a musical score. I spared Alex that.
“I remember,” he says. “She left. Your ship landed the next day. You spent time here, we asked you to find the lost dragon, I was made to go with you to help you find it. None of us knew this was going on.”
“Obviously. Genie and Paige had you going along with them. Then Skyler caught us and took me away.”
“Yeah. One minute you were there, then you were gone. Thought Genie might have had something to do with it. They seemed to know more than they told.”
“What do I do now?”
“Well… Okay. Your name isn’t Changeling. According to what you told me, that’s all of us.”
“So what’s your name? Where do you come from?”
Easy. I open my mouth. “My name is—“ it won’t come out. “I come from—“ it won’t come out.
I concentrate really really hard. My. Name. Is. … Everything goes white. I am once again surrounded by nothing in the world of nothing.
Ep. 25: Intercepted
Genie won’t come back this time. She’s sure of it. She rode in the ship with them until just before the crash—no way they survived it. Now she can go back to nowhere and be successful in the running of her private universe.
That was what she’d been thinking. Now she’s on a ship—the Falling Star, she’s already learned. She’s immobilized and surrounded by space pirates. Genie’s little friend, Paige is also there. Not just there, she realizes. Captain of the ship somehow.
“We know who you are,” Paige says as she steps forward. “We know what you’re after.”
“Oh yes. Genie gave a starship to one person already, why not a band of space pirates? Except he gives them—us a job. W’re to keep this,” she brandishes the dragon figurine, “away from you.”
“Didn’t work out. I’m here. It’s here.”
“True, true. But I think all I need to do is keep you separated from it and keep you from chasing us around and around. Best way to do that is to keep you here.”
“How will you do that?”
“Simple. Remember when you let have the people think you made the universe? Don’t know if you meant to or not, but you got them to believe that if the lost dragon is ever found and returned that it would be the last days. You already took a small part back and things are already starting to go wrong. I’ve had time to study up on what you and Genie know and I’m betting you won’t risk destroying your creation—failing again.
“I don’t need to make a special effort to keep you prisoner, Skyler. You’re doing that.”
She decides to stay. To stay and to remain on the watch for a way out. When she finds it, she decides, Paige will be made to answer for her actions here.
In nowhere, in the green sky that is always clear, clouds appear on the horizon. Lightning flashes in the clouds.