Why is the sky over Los Angeles that particular color of yellowish grey?

This entry is part 5 of 26 in the series Mythology of the Modern World

And here we have the next of our little modern myths. This one is less digressive — it also ended up being longer than I had initially thought, but it’s shorter than the last and it’s a lot more story driven. It also has a few asides here and there, but they’re brief. Let me know if it worked a little better. Or if you preferred the old style. Or if, I dunno, you’re lonely.

This is the first of the myths being told “by request” from the What Myths Do You Want To Hear open weekend thread from a couple of weeks ago. Fade Manley asked the question. I humbly submit the answer.

*** *** *** ***

Some people know more about the world’s hidden corners and unseen facets than others. I don’t mean the loci — those men and women who become something more than human for various reasons. No, I mean everyday human beings. Sometimes, they have insights or intuitions that teach them about the side of the world that most of us don’t know anything about. Other times they are taught, by experience or happenstance or a relative.

That, by the way, is an example of zeugma. But I digress.

As an example, I give you a girl named Amanda. Surnames are unimportant in this case, but suffice it to say Amanda grew up in a small town and had small town ambitions. She had steady if boring work as a house painter. She wanted very little out of life — enough money to be comfortable, friends she could hang out with, a place to call her own, maybe a cat….

And love, of course. She wanted love. But that wasn’t unreasonable, was it?

In any case, Amanda was typical to the point of boredom. If it hadn’t been for her Uncle Al, there would have been little reason to even discuss her. But, as we have implied, she did have an Uncle Al and so we do have a reason to discuss her. As it works out, her Uncle Al was one of these people who knew a lot about the world just beyond the edge of perception, and as it turns out he taught Amanda quite a bit about it. He taught her by telling her stories as a child and by giving her challenges as a teenager and finally by sending her on errands as an adult. After all, if you know the real back routes, you can get from Kansas to Boston to pick up a specific blend of tea from Tealuxe in about fifteen minutes on a Honda scooter. She knew the twists and turns, and what trolls you needed to give five bucks to in order to pass their bridges, versus what trolls were just bluffing, and how to recognize a kindly haggish innkeeper off the path who would give you a cup of coffee and some biscuits for a few minutes of conversation, versus the various Baba Yagas who are a plague on the countryside in their packs of chicken legged houses.

But as remarkable as all this seems to you or I, to Amanda this was just everyday life. She had grown up with it, after all, and while we might not know the secrets she knew, she would maintain it was no different than knowing that Mister Potter’s service road cut ten minutes off your travel time between the high school and the IHOP out on State Route Sixteen. So she didn’t think she was remarkable for knowing these tricks.

Really, if she was proud of anything, it was her ability to paint houses.

To be fair, she really was something at it. She could paint more in an afternoon than most house painters managed in three days. She always did exactly the right primer coat for a room, and she was an expert at sanding or scraping walls before she started, and she had a remarkable eye for color and ambient light. Her services were sought after by lazy middle class yuppies from Michaud Hill to the ConAgra Farm Complex. Her rates were fair, though sometimes there was a wait for a hole in her schedule. She was always on time, showing up in her paint spattered coveralls and a series of pastel colored tee shirts. She would take a few minutes to set up dropcloths, queue up a good playlist on her iPod, and get right to work without dillydally.

Otherwise, she had a perfectly normal life. She liked to go to bars and drink beer or the occasional appletini after work, on weekends she would hang out with friends at the Park River Strip Mall, and if sometimes she showed up with a case of Cheerwine soda, even though you pretty much had to go to Virginia or someplace just like Virginia to get it, people didn’t complain. They just enjoyed the soda.

A couple of the guys in town tried their luck with Amanda. She wasn’t unattractive, after all. But while Amanda wanted love, she wanted it to be the real thing. Capital L Love. Passionate, heart stopping love, of the sort you saw in crappy movies. And for whatever reason, none of the local boys who were interested sparked that kind of passion in Amanda.

And then Amanda met The One.

He was in his mid twenties when she met him. He had a slightly scruffy beard and hair, thin and wiry, and he was wearing beat up jeans and a yellow and blue striped long sleeved tee. And if she’d seen him at a bar, she’d have flirted or offered to dance or otherwise opened negotiations, but unfortunately she saw him at IHOP one Saturday morning when she was stopping in for breakfast before an action packed day of hanging out at the strip mall.

I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but the moment Amanda laid eyes on him, she knew he was the one she had been waiting for. There was no other. There would never be any other. He was it.

Amanda frowned. There really wasn’t etiquette for telling someone you just saw for the first time at IHOP that you loved him and would like to demonstrate this fact as physically and enthusiastically as possible. At the same time, having seen The One and knowing there would be no other, it seemed like a bad idea to sit in a corner and hope fate would cause the two of you to have a wacky adventure together. So, Amanda screwed up her courage, walked across the room, slid into the booth opposite The One. “Have you ordered yet,” she asked.

He looked up from the menu, somewhat startled. He frowned slightly, then shrugged. “Not yet,” he said. “Am I buying or is this dutch?”

“Let’s go dutch, but split the bill down the middle.”

“Are you going to order the steak?”

“It’s IHOP. The steak isn’t significantly more expensive than the pancakes.”

He considered, and nodded. “Divided is fine.” He considered a moment longer. “I’m Trent.”

“I’m Amanda.”

It was a pretty good first date. Trent won Amanda a stuffed toy in the claw crane game. It was a snake, more or less, though it looked like it might have legs. They went out to the reservoir and chucked rocks in it for a while, and they shopped for a while at the Park River Strip Mall, and they had a pretty good meal at Smokey Bones, and they spent a reasonable amount of time kissing each other and seeing what base they could get to without it feeling weird. In the end, it was ruled a ground rule double.

Finally, they were walking through a corn field just after dark, the stars overhead, when Trent said “I really got to get going. I was just looking for someplace out of the way for breakfast.”

“No prob,” Amanda said. “Will I see you again?”

He nodded. “Yeah, you got my number. Text me?”

“Sure.”

They walked to the edge of the field, crossed the dirt road, and Trent started for the wire fence — specifically a place where the wire was broken.

Amanda watched him head for it, and smiled a bit. “Hey!” she called back.

He looked over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

“If you’re looking for the Midsummer Path, that way through sucks. The upper wire snags your clothes. I lost like three shirts that way. There’s a Century Oak maybe a quarter mile up the road — it’s way better if you’re heading more or less West.”

Trent paused, and then walked back. “Yeah,” he said. “Show me?”

So she did, but before he circled the Century Oak knocking the trunk once to signal the dryad that he was a friend and then get onto the Midsummer’s Path heading to where the sunlight came to rest at the end of the day, he and Amanda spent another forty five minutes going for a triple. They got one, more or less, though one attempt to steal home was sent back for failing to touch second.

Amanda spent a lot of time grinning after that weekend. Weekdays she threw herself even more firmly into her housepainting job. She stopped going to bars at night, though. There was no good reason to. Weekends, she met Trent at the IHOP and the two painted the town red. Or, if they were in the mood, they’d nip around the corner to Milan or New York City or — after a series of wrong turns — Wonderland. It was a darn good life.

After a good amount of time like this, the conversation turned to marriage. After all, Trent was pretty happy and Amanda knew he was The One and that there would be no other, so a more formal arrangement seemed to be in order. However, the pair hadn’t done all the amenities like meet their respective families, and they knew that eloping without that step was a one way ticket to landing onto a particularly uncomfortable episode of Doctor Phil. So, Amanda took Trent to meet Uncle Al, her parents having died in a tragic combine related accident some years before. Uncle Al and Trent got on well enough, though Uncle Al seemed slightly troubled. When Trent was in the bathroom, Amanda asked him why.

“Mm. It’s just a feeling,” he said. “He seems a little real.”

“A little real? As opposed to what — being a phony?”

“No no.” He shook his head. “Everything is ephemeral, and most things are as much image as they are substance. Trent seems more substantial than most. He knows the back roads around the world?”

“Yeah.” Amanda frowned. “Are you saying there’s a problem?”

Uncle Al shrugged. “Depends. No reason to worry until we have something to worry about.”

Just then, Trent rejoined them. “Did I miss anything?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Uncle Al said. “Would you two like a cup of tea?”

The rest of that Saturday, Amanda kept a close eye on Trent. And she had to admit, she could see what her Uncle meant. Trent had a quality — like he was somehow anchored to the world more firmly than anyone else. Like he was in sharper focus, and slightly more saturated in color. But she could also see that Trent really did love her, and of course she loved him, so she decided not to worry about it unless it was necessary.

“So tomorrow, we’ll meet my mother?” he asked as they headed to the Century Oak.

“Sure. Where to?”

“West. Meet me here, and I’ll bring you.”

They kissed then, and did a few other things that twentysomethings do when they really like each other, but which we don’t really need to get into, and he headed out. And Amanda went home and found some nice clothes, made sure they were clean, and went to bed.

The next morning, Amanda went out to the Century Oak. Trent met her there after a few minutes, and then they circled the Oak, making sure to knock so the Dryad knew they were cool, and then they headed West on the MidSummer Path, passing through the Orchard of the Peaches of That Feeling You Get During The Dream Where You’re Naked In School And Didn’t Go To Class All Semester And Now It’s Time For A Final That Your Whole High School Grade Depends On.

What, you didn’t think all the magical fruit trees were about Love or Sleep or Memory, did you?

They crossed the Bridge of Accord over the River Dian, and they skirted the edges of the Woods of Despair, avoiding a particularly nasty pair of Baba Yagas who were drag racing their chicken legged houses down the MidSummer Path in what was certainly a violation of the law, and heading down into the valleys and the sands, and Amanda knew they were heading for the greater Metropolitan Los Angeles area. Specifically, the back world sections of it.

Amanda expected that they would cross into the Real World that everyone could see, but instead Trent made a turn onto a golden path. Amanda followed as the path spiraled, seeming to circle the city itself, rising into the air on golden wires and glass, narrowing in as they approached a beautiful palace of shining gold and crystal. And Amanda bit her lip as they crossed into the courtyard and passed by several bubbling marble fountains and through a gateway guarded by brave men. She realized as they walked through the Great Hall of the Palace that whatever Trent’s mother turned out to be, she was probably underdressed.

Finally, they came upon a dias, and upon the dias there was a small table with three wrought iron chairs surrounding it. And on the table there was a silver tea set with three beautiful and delicate china teacups. And on one of the wrought iron chairs sat one of the most beautiful women Amanda had ever seen. She had perfect cheekbones, and her hair was golden and streaming behind her with particularly expensive highlights in it. She wore a beautiful and expensive blouse and coat with pearls, and didn’t even look ironic. She looked younger than Trent, and yet her eyes were old and reflected power. And when Amanda looked at her, she knew that she was looking at a Locus — one of those men or women who embodied one of the principles of the world, be those principles grand or minute. This was as much goddess as human, and a woman accustomed to power that Amanda could have no concept of.

Amanda now knew she was underdressed.

“Mom,” Trent said, pulling a chair for Amanda, “this is Amanda. We’d like to get married. Amanda, this is my mother, the Duchess of Los Angeles.”

The Duchess of Los Angeles looked Amanda up and down, and frowned slightly. “I see,” she said, and even her voice had an echo of power and immortality in it. “Be a dear and pour us some tea, Trent.”

The tea was expensive. It wasn’t prepared any better than Amanda or Uncle Al could do, but Amanda could tell this was tea from rarified fields, picked by hand by wizened men who carefully dried and prepared it. White tea, without milk. On the whole, Amanda preferred Lipton. “It’s an honor to meet you, Your Grace,” she said, bowing her head and showing respect. She knew the rules of etiquette. Uncle Al wouldn’t have taught her how to take the back roads of the world without teaching her how to comport herself with some of the aristocrats who lived there.

The Duchess of Los Angeles continued to look Amanda up and down. “Tell me,” she said, finally. “Do you have a bloodline of power?”

“No, ma’am.”

“How did you learn to walk the pathways of perception?”

Amanda preferred her Uncle’s term — taking the back roads of the world sounded so much less pretentious. “My uncle taught me, ma’am.”

The Duchess nodded, still frowning. “Are you a hero?”

“Not that I know of, ma’am.”

“Do you have any special wisdom?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Have you slain any particular noisome beasts?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Are you rich?”

“No, ma’am.”

The Duchess frowned more. “What do you do?

“I’m a painter, ma’am.”

The Duchess’s eyebrows arched. “Ah,” she said. “An artist. All right. We can work with that. Do you prefer watercolors? Oils? Would you like to try fresco sometime? I could use a good fresco painter….”

“Not that kind of painting, Your Grace. I paint houses for a living.”

The Duchess looked at Amanda. It was not a good look. “You’re a housepainter.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s it? Nothing else to speak of?”

Amanda shrugged. “I’m a pretty normal person, ma’am.”

“Mom, she’s funny and quick, and she–”

“Shut up, Trent,” the Duchess murmured. She shook her head. “I don’t see how we can possibly make this work. Trent isn’t a locus but he has the blood of the world in his veins. He will be a remarkable full mortal. His wife will also need to be remarkable. Because if the only thing his wife is remarkable for is how unremarkable she is…” the Duchess leaned forward, “…then people will remark on it, and not the way we want. Do you understand?”

“Mother–”

“Shut up, Trent. This isn’t about you.”

“How can it–”

The Duchess fixed a glare on her son, and he shut up. Amanda didn’t blame him for that. He might be her son, but this was a half-goddess and when she said shut up, you shut up.

The Duchess turned back to Amanda. “Do you understand?” she repeated.

“Yes, Your Grace.”

The Duchess nodded. “Very good. It was nice to meet–”

“You’re saying that before I can marry your son, I need to do something remarkable. That’s my understanding. Do I have that correct, your Grace?”

The Duchess’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “I am saying you are not going to mar–”

Mother,” Trent hissed. The Duchess paused, and looked at her son. And she saw in his eyes true love. And looking back at Amanda, she realized that to Amanda, her son was the One, and there would never be any other. And the Duchess frowned. She knew that if she out and out forbade this wedding, that was a one way ticket to Las Vegas and her only begotten child ending up a fry cook at the IHOP out on State Route 16.

The Duchess slowly nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Precisely. You must perform a great task. We must find you a dragon to slay, or a–”

“I don’t slay dragons, m’lady. I don’t slay anything. If you are to give me a great task, it must be in an area where I am in fact great. That is the way of great tasks.”

The Duchess rolled her eyes. “You’re not great at anything,” she said.

“Yes, I am. I paint houses.”

“Please. We’re discussing–”

“Your Grace, I give to you all honor and respect.” Amanda leaned forward. “But hear me. I am not a princess and I am not a heroine. But I am the best house painter you have ever met. I am fast, I am fair, I am complete, and I am unobtrusive. I give excellent value, arrive on time, work to estimate and never, ever cause trouble for my clients. I will not claim any other airs before your magnificence, but do not dare. Imply. What I do is not great.” Amanda held her head up high. “Because quite frankly, I’m awesome.”

The Duchess narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. She was tempted to strike the impertinent stripling down, but she too was bound by etiquette. The girl had made a claim of greatness, and by the laws that all Loci must abide by, she had to be accorded due respect until such time as she had a chance to prove her claims. “Very well,” she said. “You say you’re a great house painter? Then we shall see.”

The Duchess rose to her feet, the very act of standing a gathering of ancient power. “Come. We will prepare your task. I have just the thing.”

“Of course, your Grace,” Amanda said, standing up.

Trent stood too. “Mother,” he said warningly, “what do you have in mind?”

“A task worthy of the hand of the son of the Duchess of Los Angeles,” the Duchess said, striding through the halls to a spiral staircase. “We shall have your Amanda paint the ceiling of my home.”

Amanda blinked. “No problem,” she said, looking around. “I assume you’re going to want to have all the ceilings in here painted. I’ll need a layout of the palace–”

The Duchess snorted. “You misunderstand, girl. This is not my home.”

Amanda frowned. “It’s not?”

“No more than a closet in your own house is your home. This is a convenient place for me to store things I don’t want to get rained on.” The trio emerged then onto the balcony of a turret of the palace, overlooking the shining city below them. From here, Amanda could see the city in all its glory. The real world of Los Angeles. The back roads world of Los Angeles. That which anyone could see and that which almost no one could see. It spread out before them, miles and miles and miles of it.

The Duchess swept her hands out. “This is my home.” And she gestured to the shining blue sky. “And that is my home’s ceiling. If you want to marry my son, you will have to paint that.

Amanda looked up at the bowl of the sky. “…really?” she asked.

The Duchess smiled slightly. “Really. And if you agree to this task, then until it is completed I forbid you to speak to my son, much less spend time in his presence.” She turned to look at the girl. “I don’t care about your little dalliances. If my son wants to spend his weekends doing some plebe in Bumfuck, Kansas, that’s his own affair. But if you’re going to take his name and family, you’re not going to enjoy the benefits of his company during your task to prove your worth. Do you understand that?

Amanda took a deep breath. “I do, Your Grace.”

“Any pithy comments to make? Or questions to ask?”

“Just one, Your Grace.” Amanda looked up, proudly, into the Duchess’s eyes. “Do you provide the paint or am I supposed to?”

The Duchess looked back, and smiled just slightly. “You do.”

“Color preference?”

The Duchess smiled a bit more. It was not a kind smile. “Since I don’t expect you to get very far with this, I don’t care. Whatever you can afford.”

“I will need to work at night. During the day I’ll have to continue doing my own job, and weekends I have off. That’s my standard deal.”

The Duchess shrugged. “It’s your task, dear. However long you want to take doing it — until you get fed up, anyway — is fine by me.”

“Mother,” Trent said beseechingly. “Please. If she has to do this ridiculous thing, then fine. But don’t keep us apart while she’s doing it. That’s just–”

“Cruel?” The Duchess smiled. “I know.”

“Fine.” Amanda looked resolute. “May I kiss your son goodbye before I go?”

The Duchess snorted. “No. If you’re accepting this task, then the separation begins immediately. Or you can just continue to have an affair. Though I warn you — if you two decide to run off to Vegas and get married without my consent, having asked the price of marriage, then a curse will descend upon you both.” She smiled, unkindly. That loophole was now closed off.

“Understood.” She nodded — without speaking — to Trent, the One of whom there would never be another, and she strode down the steps.

“Mother,” Trent said, quietly, “you can be an unbelievable bitch.”

“You have no idea,” the Duchess said. “No idea at all.”

Amanda spent the rest of that Sunday making preparations. The skies above Los Angeles would take a lot of paint, and of a type you couldn’t get at Sherwin-Williams, so she traveled along the Back Roads of the World to appropriate suppliers. She laid out her budget, and she found a supplier, though the only color he had in enough bulk that Amanda could afford was a rather hideous yellow-grey.

Amanda shrugged. The Duchess had said she didn’t care, and she was going to take her word for it.

On Monday, she finished her day’s work by one. She then went home and caught a few hours of sleep. And then, right at the point where the sun was beginning to go down in Los Angeles, she got up. Solemnly, she put on a brown lycra tee she didn’t care about getting dirty, and her most comfortable paint splattered coveralls. She put a kerchief over her hair, double tied, and synched the iPod she had let charge while she slept. She made her way out, and passed through to the Back Roads at the Century Oak, carrying her supplies in a backpack. She made her way to Los Angeles through the route, and then took a side road when she got close — one that led to the scaffolding and the maintenance ducts that the so called real world was lined with. What, you didn’t think the maintenance staff wandered around visibly, did you? There are many levels to the world. Not unlike Disney World, really.

Amanda put her ear buds in her ear. She hit play on her iPod. And she got to work.

And as she worked, she occasionally glanced down. And there, on the highest tower of the palace of the Duchy of Los Angeles, she could see Trent, looking up. Watching her work through the night.

Come the dawn, Amanda went home, of course. She had to wash up and get ready for her day job.

And the Duchess of Los Angeles got up that morning with a smile. She had been told before bed that the silly girl was actually trying to paint the sky, and she figured that a few days of that would convince her of the futility of it. And that would be that, since she and Trent couldn’t even pursue their affair now. Her servant gave her a mug of truly exquisite coffee and she walked out onto the terrace to enjoy it–

And stared, the mug slipping from her fingers and falling to the streets below, landing in Compton in front of a corner store, shattering and splattering the facade and two kids. Later, various lawsuits would wend their way through the court system for decades stemming from this incident, but even the minor acts of the Loci can have profound effect on our world.

The Duchess didn’t notice this. She was staring.

The sky was yellow-grey.

“MANSFIELD!” she cried out. Mansfield was her majordomo.

“Yes, your Grace?” the servant said, with the calm disinterest of a long time domestic.

“Did that girl — did she do this?

“Yes, your Grace.”

The Duchess stared, looking on all sides. “Is… is she done? Did she do it in one night?

“No, your Grace. She has significant detail work left to do, especially on the edges — you can see some blue over there, for instance. And I understand she wants to sand some bits and redo them, as well and putting a second coat down on parts of it.” Mansfield smiled. He appreciated good work. “She’s quite a perfectionist.”

The Duchess’s head swam. By the next night — or Thursday at the latest — the girl would be done and she would be marrying the Duchess’s son. “I must… there must be… get me Gaylord Bennett on the phone. No — ask him to come. Say it’s an emergency. Say it has to be today.

Mansfield arched an eyebrow. “Of course, your Grace.” He withdrew to make the necessary arrangements.

The Duchess looked out over the sky once more.

“Remarkable,” she half-whispered. And then she frowned more.

Gaylord Bennett looked like a biker. He work leathers and chains and a kerchief, and had a long goatee and sunglasses. Which was befitting the Scion of the Desert Winds. “Gotta admit, Duch — I don’t expect to hear from you. Not after some of the crap you’ve pulled.” Los Angeles, you’ll recall, was largely carved out of a desert, so it could be said that the Duchess’s domain had cut into the Scion’s.

“That’s the past. This is the present. And I want to discuss the future. Did you notice the sky as you came in?”

Gaylord looked up. “I think everyone in the greater metropolitan area noticed the sky. Crappy color.”

“Blame my own short-sightedness for that. It’s not quite finished.”

“So?”

“So… I don’t want it to be finished. I want the desert winds to blow and bits of sand to scar the paint job.”

Gaylord frowned. “I send a high altitude wind in, that’ll scuff up most of the thing. You’ll get light clouds, a mix of the blue undercoat, and I won’t promise it’ll smell all that great. Especially mixed with the paint fumes.”

“I don’t care,” the Duchess said. “Can you do it?”

“Of course.” He smiled a bit. “For a how long?”

Forever,” the Duchess snarled.

Gaylord smiled more at this. “It’ll cost you,” he said.

“Fine. I don’t care.”

And so it did indeed cost the Duchess. She sent tribute to the Scion’s home, and she gave him the wide span that today we call Death Valley to build his own palace, just four hours from her own domain. She sent some of her most beautiful youths — beautiful and nubile women and robust and virile men — numbering two hundred in total, with a promise of ten more men and ten more women each year, to form a new court for Gaylord even outside his other desert homes. And his people could be seen on her streets. It is said that gang activity — so prevelent in Los Angeles today — stems from this deal, and that each member of a gang has a touch of the wild desert wind in his heart. But that may just be a rumor.

And in exchange, Gaylord sent high altitude winds and heat in, and the paint streaked and cracked, causing blue to spill over throughout the area. And while it was still largely yellow-grey, almost anyone who looked up would figure that the yellow-grey was incidental to the blue. Certainly, if they’d known it was paint, they’d figure it was far from complete.

That night, Amanda returned. With a frown, she realized what had happened. But she did not complain. She put her iPod headphones on and she set back to work, redoing almost all of it, touching it up, working towards perfection.

And with the day the desert winds returned. Which meant that it was now much less comfortable in Los Angeles — the smell of paint, as well as many other smells, was everywhere. Sometimes it was even hard to breath. And of course it was much hotter than it used to be.

And at night, Amanda returned, and set back to work without complaining.

And so, things continued in that vein. Amanda would do remarkable things, and the Scion of the Desert Winds would ruin it. She would take weekends off, because that was her deal. She worked weekday mornings at her day job, painting houses. Nights belonged to Trent, and to the work that would one day see them united.

Trent, for his part, spends most of his nights sitting in a lawn chair on that balcony. He watches her work. And he smiles. You see, he was pretty into Amanda before. He liked her, and maybe even loved her, and he could see marrying her.

But sitting and watching this act of devotion… this act of true love… night after night after night made him realize.

Amanda was it. She was the One. And for Trent, there would be no other.

They do have contact, of course. Enjoined from speaking or being close, they communicate through text message and through e-mail. Trent sends her little videos and Amanda sends some back, and they interact on message boards and spend a lot of the weekend time playing World of Warcraft together — though never with voice chat, of course. Trent is, of course, idle rich trash so he has no job. He can sleep in very late so he can spend his nights watching.

And some nights, his mother joins him.

You see, there is one thing that the Duchess realized after quite some time had passed. She realized that it was not breeding that made one remarkable. And she realized that Amanda was remarkable indeed. Certainly, it was clear no one would ever love her son this much, or be this devoted. And so she decided to let the woman proceed without hinderance.

Gaylord would have none of it. The Duchess had signed an open ended deal, and he wanted his tribute and his foothold into the streets of Los Angeles — a land that had been his before the Duchess showed up. And she had made a deal for him to hinder the girl’s efforts forever, and that’s what he intends to do. In fact, when Amanda gets close to finishing anyhow — which every so often she does — Gaylord calls upon one of his ex-girlfriends, the current Viscountess of the Northwesterlies, to use her flute and whistle up a huge if atypical storm that blows through the city, washing clean the skies and leaving them a pristine blue, meaning Amanda has to start all over again.

But she never complains. She never bemoans. She just sets her playlist going, and sets right back to work.

So when the air is thick and hot and stinky, and the sky is yellow/grey and hazy, and the city seems practically unlivable, you might feel unhappy for yourself, but spare a moment for a smile, too. Because as nasty as that haze might be? That haze comes from love. And looking up, it’s hard not to believe — to hope — that Amanda will manage to actually finish the job in one night, finally, and thus win her new husband. And as the Scion would have failed, the pact would be broken and he would have no reason to continue, and eventually the haze would fade. And the city, albeit with a well painted sky of grey and gold, would move on.

And so would Amanda and Trent.

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  • http://moeticae.typepad.com/weblog_licentiae_moeticae/ Moe Lane

    No wet blankets on this one. Very nice. :)

  • Brian

    Touching, and with the little touches that make it an Eric Burns story.

  • Joel Wilcox

    I like this. It works a lot better than the last one, and I think only part of that is due to length. As you noted, this one is more story-driven, and that really helps. The art one was a mix of essay and story, and I wonder if that’s part of what made it difficult to read. It’s also very original, and the originality is probably what makes it most interesting to me.

  • Tephlon

    Touching, good myth/explanation feel, lovely “Burns” touches.

    Nice and short too. ;-)

  • Lunatic Muse

    Dang it, this story made me sad. Not quite melancholy, but sad. Perfect for a gloomy Monday morning in the big city.

    Excellent work, Mr. Burns.

  • http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom dvandom

    What IS the proper collective noun for multiple Baba Yaga huts? A gaggle or flock doesn’t seem right….

  • Michael Weaver

    dvandom: maybe one of these words would work: (murder | conspiracy | pandemonium) of Baba Yaga huts…

    Eric: Yeah, this feels like just the right length. Loved the little touches you put here and there, and the descriptions of the loci. The way you described the palace of the Duchess of Los Angeles reminded me of scenes from Pan’s Labyrinth, in a good way.

    I’m amazed you could attach the smog of Los Angeles to a love story, but somehow, it makes sense.

    As an aside, it’s a good thing most of these secret paths can’t be accidentally stumbled upon, especially not by someone driving their car down the road. Though if you go too far off the paved roads…

  • MasonK

    *sniffle*

  • Honi Soit

    This is really, really solid.

    Also: Should the plural of Baba Yaga be Baba Yagae? Or Babae Yagae, even?

    Also: “Awwwww….” :,-)

  • CrazyDave

    I’m really enjoying the Modern Mythology series.

    A well timed aside can really add to the scope, as long it’s not jarring. The gangs bit informed me of how much influence the Duchess has, as well as being enjoyable.

    Although it was a bit jarring to see her scream my name :)

  • http://cyberpunkwatch.livejournal.com Streon

    I love these stories, Eric.

  • WestRider

    Dude. That literally brought a couple of tears to my eye. Not many writers can do that.

    Good job.

  • Dan Miller

    Awesome story–I loved it. The idea of the world’s hidden entrances and employee pathways is unbelievably cool–it’s a concept that makes me jealous of the characters. Perhaps this is related to the fact that my dream vacation would consist of driving from East Coast to West Coast without using directions or an Interstate highway. Perhaps I’m a somewhat strange person.

  • Fade Manley

    That is absolutely brilliant. (And I apologize for taking so long to comment.) I never would have thought of making that the color of love, but when you paint it that way (pun not entirely intended), it really /works/.

  • kat

    C’mon, Amanda. Outpaint the desert winds. Does she get some help during fire-season?

    To echo others–this is really solid work. And you’ve made me look at the sky today with wonder, instead of ‘ohgoodlord, it’s a bad air day’. So thanks for that, too.

  • http://websnark.com Eric A. Burns

    Fire season doesn’t help Amanda, but it does make for some other interesting sidelines. But that has to do with Jake Bennett, the son of Gaylord, and a particularly modern hamadryad who lives somewhat north.

    And that, as they say, is another story.

  • ruds

    This is a really good story. It had the right feel throughout — I especially like the back ways of the world. But you committed one of my pet peeves: “But as remarkable as all this seems to you or I…” should end in “you or me”! In this sentence, the personal pronouns are the object of the preposition “to” and so should be in their object forms. This error to me is worse than incorrectly using “you or me” as a subject, because it implies that you know there’s a rule but that you got it wrong.

    But that’s just my hangup.

  • http://websnark.com Eric A. Burns

    Mea culpa, ruds. Though there is a certain cadence to the phrase that feels storytellerish to me. Of course, that hearkens back to the difference between the use of the familiar in everyday speech versus the simulated use of the familiar in written speech and the grammar versus style debate and all kinds of things we don’t begin to want to get into. ;)

    Suffice it to say, you are absolutely correct.

  • ruds

    Heh. I was a copy editor on my college newspaper — I don’t know from poetic license, I just know grammar :)