Because my debut novel MASQUE is one year old Feb 1st, I've been running a bookswag giveaway on my blog (and the blogs of several other lovely bloggers). I've also been writing new content (aka, short stories) and generally having a lot of fun with it.
This is the second of my related short stories, wherein the main characters from MASQUE are seen tangentially, and new characters take the foreground! I've not posted the entire short story here, since it's about 6000 words: if you'd like to finish reading A GLITCH IN THE PATTERN, just click through the link below to my website. And if you want to win cool bookswag, click the link above :)
A GLITCH IN THE PATTERN
-a MASQUE short story-
When you’re the only son of the best-known poet in Glause, people expect things. Things like picturesque dress and beautiful hair. Graceful manners and a way with words. They expect that you’ll sparkle at parties and whisper pretty nothings into the ears of all the most beautiful women.
Nobody really seems to know what to do when you turn out tall and awkward, with a big nose and bigger ears, and absolutely no talent at all for the written word. Father, after a few years of despondency, wrote a series of sonnets on the subject of his disappointment and moved on. I haven’t yet told him that I mean to join the Glausian Watch. I don’t think I could stand another series of sonnets.
My name is Tarquin, but everybody calls me Quin. It helps to keep expectations down.
I don’t like parties. I’m too clumsy to be a welcome dance partner, too uninteresting to be a sought-after companion, and too tall to hide from everybody unless I fold myself behind the furniture. Father loves parties: he sparkles, ripostes, and charms. Tonight he was in his element, reciting his new villanelle in sweeping, lyrical phrases with his arms high and graceful. I’d made out better than usual, fortunate enough to find an out-of-the-way seat in a line of five or six that were lined up along an inconvenient wall at the top of the room and all but hidden by two enormous urns. I wedged myself into one of the chairs with my knees as awkwardly high as ever, dwarfing its spindly legs with my own long ones. From there I could watch the crowd without having to be one of them. There was the usual swell around Father, a constant coil of attention that waxed and waned, its edges always in flux; and around his compelling current was a vast ocean of push and pull. There was the usual knot of determined-to-shine young women around the piano, glaring in concert at the one fortunate enough to have seized it first, and around them in gently wafting layers were doting mamas, reluctant swains, and sisters young enough to be counted on to vigorously jostle for position without outshining their older siblings. This knot would be dispersing when the dancing began, but for now it merged with Father’s circle in an undulating give and take, his voice sometimes rising over the piano, and the piano at times swelling above him. His circle met with the rest of the room, in all its familiar currents, knots and eddies. I knew those patterns almost better than I knew the streets of Glause’s Imperial City: everything swirled in the same unending patterns, predictable and calculable.
I liked to sit in the corner and watch the patterns move, calculating when this would happen, what was the likelihood of that couple meeting on the dancefloor, and generally making a satisfying exercise of it. It seemed like good practise, you see. I would be enlisting in the Watch just as soon as I could bring myself to tell Father, and I was an eager student of the Watch Commander’s methods. He was a great believer in surveillance and patience.
I’m not sure when I began to notice the contrary ripples in the pattern. It could have been when one of my predictions first failed. They didn’t often fail nowadays, especially when I was so familiar with the crowd and the house as I was tonight. It was a simple, silly thing, too. The man in blue should have crossed the room and asked the woman in yellow to dance. All the signs had been there, and the crowd had thinned enough: it was even flowing in the right direction. He took one step into the flow, met with a sudden surge of blue-uniformed horselords, and went back to his place against the wall as the gap in the current closed again. He wasn’t the only one going against my predictions, either. There was another gentleman, this one in a brown coat, working his way gently against the flow and up the room.
My first thought was that I’d calculated wrongly. Blue Coat could have simply been staring across the room without a thought in his head. I didn’t think so, but he couldhave been.
Then I saw her: red hair, elegant, her dress expensively plain. She was a steady, wrongwise current pulling through the crowd and leaving changed patterns in her wake. A touch here, a word there, and suddenly my patterns were no longer predictable and reliable. Who was she? What was she doing?
I watched her, frowning, and it occurred to me that she was following the other moving disturbance in the pattern; the smooth-faced older gentleman I had noticed earlier. His brown coat was drawing closer as he approached the top of the room and my hiding place, and she kept pace with him from the other side of the room. What was going on in the ballroom tonight?
I turned my head to watch Brown Coat exit the room via the top door to my right, craning to see him around the other urn.
As I did so, a friendly voice said by my ear: “Would you be so kind as to loan me your pocketknife?”
It was the woman who had been following Brown Coat. Her red hair was caught up in big loop down her back, and she had a narrow, clever face that was a lot closer than I had expected it to be. I stood abruptly in a rictus of politeness, and sent my chair tottering back into the wall as I looked uncertainly down at her. She wasn’t pretty, but her eyes were laughing up at me, and I felt my heart do something stuttery and pleasantly uncomfortable.
I gazed at her in silence for far too long: she must have thought I was an imbecile.
“I’ll bring it back,” she added.