Chapter Nine: The Princess and the Frog

“Rhode Island is boring.” The pixie sighs loudly. None of us says anything because we all agree. There are trees, beaches, and a few more trees. I look over at Randy, who’s scratching at the skin on the underside of his wrist. He’s been doing that for a few hours now, ever since we docked the ship, and his eyes keep swiping over the horizon as if he’s expecting to see someone he knows.

William, on the other hand, looks like he might be ready to kill our human companion just for the sport of it. He catches my glare and returns it with a sharp smile that makes my insides turn.

“Don’t,” I mouth at him, and he just shrugs. His passivity makes my spine quiver. I don’t know which is worse: siding with Randy, Mary’s frenemy who most likely doesn’t care whether I live or become… more dead—or William who, well, is just scary. It’s probably because he doesn’t have a soul. I don’t even think it existed when he was alive.

“How much farther?” Pixie Elvis squeals, kicking one tasseled leg out in front of him to reveal a bright red, gladiator sandaled foot. “My toes are chaffing.”

“We need to get to Portsmouth first,” Randy says absently. “If I’m judging right, we’ve drifted into the Rhode Island Sound. If we can make it to Portsmouth, I know where we can get some food. And sleep.”

William’s sneer is extra-vile as he says, “Let me guess, this Mister Frogg is an acquaintance of yours?”

Randy rolls his eyes. “I have no idea who he is.”
“Then what’s in Portsmouth?” I shove my hands into the pockets of my denim breeches. I don’t know why these things weren’t invented earlier—the convenience is outstanding.

He sighs loudly, mussing his hair with a large hand and kicking at the sand that we’ve been trekking over for hours now. “My house.”

“I’m confused,” I say as he steers us onto a paved roadway that heads into the downtown center of whatever small-town village we’ve found ourselves in. “I thought, before, Mary said you were from Canada.”

“I was born there, sure,” Randy waves as a car stops for us to cross the street in front of it. Whoever is behind the shaded glass can only see one half of our traveling party—the mostly alive half—and I almost wish our Pixie friend were able to surprise him with a little Elvis tune, if only to allow his fear to brighten my mood. “Didn’t you think it was strange when I wasn’t ending everything with, ‘eh’?”

“Eh, what?”

“You know, Canadian stereotypes…?” I just blink at him and he looks at me like I’m some kind of buffoon. He sighs in exasperation. “So you’re telling me that you’ve been alive for over two hundred years and you’ve never been on this side of the Atlantic?”

I shake my head. “I was in the Bahamas for some years as a child, eleven or twelve maybe, when my mum was visiting her family. They lived on a sugar plantation, but then it turned into a slave holding—or maybe it was the other way around—”

“Wait, slaves, did you say slaves?” I can only categorize Randy’s expression as somewhere between surprise and utter disgust.

“Yes, after the slave trade, before independence. I was dead after that, and the seas weren’t much fun to wander during the wars.”

Randy’s face slackens again in surprise, while William merely slumps his shoulders forward as if the motion can block out a past he’d rather not remember. Pixie just keeps fluttering on, every so often moaning about a sore wing, but never stopping too long. I cannot tell if he’s half listening to the conversation, or if he is more focused on the string of lyrics that once in a while escapes his lips.

“I’ve been traveling over mountains, even through the valleys, too. I’ve been traveling night and day, I’ve been running all the way, baby, trying to get to you.”

William swats at him, a motion he dodges with an alarming amount of poise and agility seeing as his back is to the dead pirate.

“What wars?” Randy asks, drawing me back to the conversation at hand, and in front of us we come to another light, but this time rather than crossing the street, Randy leads us down a side road and onto a street that is clustered with houses. A fake antique sign that someone has drilled into the ground exclaims “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” and something about it makes me uneasy.

“The French Revolution, the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, World Wars one and two, none of them were much fun for water dwellers. It’s why we stayed docked in England most of the time.”

“Oh.” He says it like he understands, even though I know there is no way it is true.

“I spy!” Pixie Elvis cries suddenly, and we all—including William who attempts to cover his shock by crossing his arms over his chest—lurch forward in surprise. His small finger points upward at a sign that hangs just above the dark green front door of one of the many houses along this road. Every house looks like the next, and the next, and the next, and the next. It’s both alarming and charming, and I cannot tell which emotion is winning.

“It’s called a suburb,” Randy had explained earlier when William had made some snarky comment or another about it.

The sign reads “Tarot Readings available, starting at only $5,” but it isn’t that which draws my attention, but the immense displeasure that is suddenly sprawled across Randy’s face.

Suddenly the door squeals open on hinges that are surprisingly loud for a neighborhood of homes in such pristine condition, and even William seems to be uncomfortable as a woman with dark curly hair standing out in springy columns sticks her head out, peering at us with wide, gray eyes. Well, no, not us. Him. Just Randy.

“Is there something you would like to tell us, big boy?” William asks sharply, and I wonder if he realizes that he’s taken several steps toward me. I feel a slight pressure on my lower back, the sense of fingers pressing against my spine, and I know that he has. Whether it is a protective measure (which, in his defense, it is possible that the woman is a psychopath), or a desperate search for comfort amid the uncomfortable, I don’t know.

“I spy with my little eye,” Pixie Elvis continues as if nothing’s changed. He even ignores the woman as she opens the door even further, halfway stepping out of the house, her mouth dropping open in wonder. “Something green!”

“Randy?” she says, and I exchange a wary glance with William. Pixie Elvis, however, still appears to be confused as to why none of us are guessing.

“Do you give up?” he asks, spinning around, eyes wide as if we really might answer him.

“I wonder,” another much lower voice says from the doorway, and this time it’s the woman’s turn to look fearful.

“James, no—” she says.

The boy has dark hair with impeccably light eyes, and his clothes are normal (for the living): more of the denim breeches, and a red tunic that fits him nicely, exposing the subtle outline of the muscles underneath.

And then I see it on his neck, where the collar of his shirt meets the soft skin of his jugular. A small green creature is tattooed onto the skin there, and my empty heart cavity convulses into what one might have, once upon a time, described as butterflies. But even that is not enough to distract me from the fact that this new boy—though his hair is several shades too dark—looks unmistakably, irrevocably, identical to Randy.

“The person you’re looking for,” he says in a voice that sounds eerily like one I already know, “is it me?”

~~~~~

I want to apologize profusely to everyone for how long it took me to put out this chapter. I’m especially sorry to Julia who not only had to wait for me to write this, but also had to read the crazy-cold-medicine-induced chapter I sent to her at 1:30 in the morning. ( It didn’t make sense AT ALL!)

We should be getting back on schedule after this, though, so expect the next chapter coming this Friday!!! Sorry again, and I hope you enjoyed:)

Mel

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