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       Yarrow, p.1

           Charles de Lint
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  * * *


  An Autumn Tale

  Charles de Lint

  * * *


  A Peanut Press Book

  Published by, Inc.

  ISBN: 0-7408-0876-1

  First Peanut Press Edition

  Copyright © 1986 by Charles de Lint

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  Other books by Charles de Lint






  Rodger, Pat & Jon

  of The House of SF

  in Ottawa

  John, Terri

  Tanya, Naomi & Jack

  of Bakka Books

  in Toronto

  and not to forget

  Sean Costello

  —thanks for the loan of Zeus



  Thief of Dreams

  Hounds and Ravens


  Author's Note


  Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; Seek what they sought.

  —Matsuo Basho,

  The Rustic Gate


  Time Was

  Old ghosts lived behind Cat Midhir's eyes, memories that had no home until they came to haunt her.

  They came visiting in dreams, a gangly pack of Rackham gnomes, with long skinny arms and legs and eyes like saucers, dry-voiced like cattails rattling in the wind. Their tunics and trousers were a motley brown, their green and yellow caps pushed down unruly thatches of wild hair. Sometimes she sensed them outside of sleep, their wizened faces peering sharp-edged from sudden corners or, shy as fawns, soft-stepping behind her through parks and vacant lots— shadow companions who capered in her peripheral vision and were gone when she turned her head, dry voices piping strange music that became only the wind when she listened closely.

  Rarer, they stepped her dreams in the shapes of tall and stately beings, like the children of fabled Dana or Tolkien's golden elves. When they came as such— the women in long embroidered gowns and the men in jerkins of soft leather, with their pale green eyes and silvery hair all braided— they told her ancient histories of the Otherworld and its people in voices liquid as water— tales that she transcribed in the light of day and wove into the fabric of her novels and short stories.

  Rarer still, antlered Mynfel came, her eyes like honey, great branching horns lifting from her brow. Mynfel, whose very name was a charm against the riddling unknown, who sharpened Cat's intuition and filled the hollow places inside her with a quiet gladness, who made of simple living an art and made art a soaring swan with moon-tipped glittering wings. On those nights the stars held their breath and every sound, from the whirring buzz of a June bug to the scrape of a cricket's legs, hallowed her presence. Mynfel never spoke; but on such nights there was no need for tales or speaking.

  Then the night visits stopped and her dreams, if they came at all were empty….


  Sunday Night

  It was August 29th, the last day of the 1982 SuperEx— Ottawa's annual exhibition of the tasteless and the tawdry, when the nation's bureaucratic capital removed its gray-flannel sobriety for ten days to reveal a garish underbelly. Lansdowne Park, the traditional site for this extravaganza, was choked with a gaudy array of concession stands and hucksters' booths, games and prizes, bargains and swindles, horse shows and music concerts, exhibitions that ranged from livestock to crafts to kitchen and household items, rides like The Bomb and the double Ferris wheel, and as many people as the organizers could induce to pack into the park's 25.6 acres.

  The overspill of attendees and their various vehicles strangled the streets for blocks in every direction. This was a great irritation to most of the local businessmen and residents, but the enterprising souls who'd been renting out their front lawns as parking spaces for five to ten dollars a car and the owners of the Mac's Milk, Fat Alberts, smoke shops, and corner stores were happy as they counted their daily takes.

  The sky above the park was lit up as though the Mother Ship from Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind had docked in it; the air smelled cotton-candy sweet as far away as Billings Bridge Plaza a mile south. The sound of the Ex was a cacophonous roar in the park itself, and washed in waves over the surrounding residential areas.

  A half mile southeast of Lansdowne and a block northwest of the Rideau River, Albert Cousins crossed his sparsely furnished room and turned off his black and white television set, interrupting Johnny Carson in the middle of an interview with someone who looked like Tyrone Power but wasn't. His window was open in a futile attempt to alleviate the August heat; through it, replacing Johnny's voice, came the murmur of the Ex.

  Albert smiled at that sound, a weary, old man's smile, full of remembrance. When Jean was still alive… He could still remember the last time they took the boys to the Ex. Tommy was… what? Sixteen then? And Billy a year younger. Of course, the Ex wasn't the same in those days. Not so big. Not so… what was the word? Commercial. Everybody talked a lot about whether or not things were commercial these days. Didn't much matter to him.

  He and Jean had still gone a couple of times after that last outing with the boys. But that was the year Billy got hit by a car— in late September; the funeral was the first week of October. And Tommy didn't much care to have the old man and old lady tagging along with him and his friends the following year. Old man and old lady. They hadn't been old then. The way he lived now— this was what it meant to be old.

  Being old meant being lonely. He'd outlived Jean and Tommy, and all of his friends. That was all it meant. It meant watching a black and white TV set in a rooming house for other old people just like him, living off his government pension, which barely allowed him to pay his rent and eat, much less go to the Ex. They called it the SuperEx now. But that didn't matter to him. It wasn't like he'd be going to it.

  He'd sit up by the window a little while longer, maybe watch the late show, maybe not. It didn't matter. Time had a way of blending all the days and nights together, and the TV didn't help. All those little black and white actors looked and talked the same. The women all wore too little and the men looked like they'd stepped from the pages of a Sears catalogue. Not like in the old days. But at least it kept him from remembering too much.

  Peter Baird's apartment was on Fourth Avenue, four blocks north of Lansdowne and just above the bookstore that he half owned and managed— the House of Speculative Fiction. After ten days of the SuperEx he kept the constant noise factor at bay by consciously ceasing to be aware of it. It was that or just go plain nuts. Sometimes you couldn't ignore it, but tonight he'd managed to— at least for a couple of hours.

  It was going on to eleven-forty when he finished reading the last page of The Borderlord by Caitlin Midhir. This was the second time he'd read Cat's new book, but hot the first time he'd stopped to wonder at the magic those printed words on paper could evoke in him. It wasn't so much the fantastical elements like elves and wizards— or in this case, the antlered Borderlord Aldon— nor the twists and turns of the plot. That he could find in myriad other books. No, there was a certain depth to her characters and underlying themes that reached out and grabbed him every time. The writing was lyrical, too, without ever descending into mush.

  He glanced at the photo on the dust jacket and sighed. He could see why Ben was so enamored with her— could see it more than Ben, perhaps, because he'd known Cat for a couple of years now. She dropped into the bookstore every few weeks or so and they'd shoot the breeze over a cup
of coffee. She didn't talk about her writing at first, so it had taken him a couple of months to put the shy woman he knew only as Cat together with the novelist Caitlin Midhir, whose four novels and one short story collection he carried in the store. He'd found out when he'd tried to sell her one of her own novels— the then-just-released Cloak and Hood. He'd known she liked that particular style of writing because she'd been picking up LeGuin's fantasies, McKillip and the like, and had even recommended Nancy Springer's The White Hart to him when it was still called The Book of Suns and marketed as a historical. So while she sat beside him quietly sipping her coffee, he'd handed her a copy of Cloak and Hook and started in on his sales spiel.

  She'd looked at him strangely, and for a moment he thought he'd killed the book by raving it up too much. Then she said, in a very small voice, "I'm glad you liked it," and he flashed on what he'd been trying to do. It was the first time he'd ever raised a genuine laugh out of her.

  Peter smiled, thinking back. Placing The Borderlord on his night table, he killed the light. He listened to the crowd noise coming from Lansdowne, pulled his pillow up over his ear, and tried to sleep.

  Ben Summerfield pulled his cab up in front of the R&R Restaurant at the corner of Bank and Holmwood and leaned on the horn. He glanced at the much-worn copy of Christopher Stasheff's The Warlock In Spite of Himself that was sitting on his dash. Peter had told him the other day that a first edition of it was worth about fifty dollars American to a serious paperback collector. Seemed like a lot of money to pay for a yellowing book that had cost only seventy-five cents when it first came out back in '69. Not that it wasn't a good book, but you'd think for that kind of money you'd get something solid. Signed, maybe. A cloth edition for sure.

  He leaned on the horn again and an attractive blonde wearing a tight T-shirt and tighter jeans came out the restaurant's door, followed by a tall, dark-haired man who looked like he thought he was Mr. Casual— designer jeans, shut unbuttoned halfway down his chest, his hair swept back for that wind-tossed beer-ad look. They approached the cab, Mr. Casual making a show of opening the door for his companion.

  "Gallantry is not yet dead," the man said with a grin that made Ben want to pull away before the grease in the grin got all over the cab's seats. "Five-thirteen Coronation, chief," he added to Ben as he got in beside the woman.

  "Sure thing," Ben said, adding "asshole" under his breath. What was with this chief shit? What did women see in guys like this anyway?

  He took his foot off the brake pedal, pushed down on the gas, and pulled away from the curb, cutting into the traffic. Behind him an irate driver sounded his horn.

  "What a zoo that was," Debbie Mitchell said. She fluffed her hair, caught the cabbie's eye in the mirror and winked, smiling to herself when he blushed. "Every year I tell myself— that's it. I'm not going to the Ex again— not even if they get the Beatles to reunite for the Grandstand Show."

  "It was pretty awful," Andy Barnes agreed.

  He moved his leg closer to hers, laid his hand on her thigh.

  Debbie nodded, replying to his comment rather than his unsubtle body language. What she really wanted was a hot bath. Going to the Ex made her feel unclean all over. And while normally she didn't mind Andy's attention— he could be a lot of fun if she was in the right mood— tonight his puppy-dog eagerness was wearing a little on her. She wondered if it was worth the bother to try and put him off tonight. His hand inched up her thigh. She glanced at the mirror again, but the cabbie kept his gaze studiously on the road.

  Turning to Andy, she offered him her lips and dropped her hand down between his legs. His "brave little soldier," as he liked to call it, sprang to attention. Well, if he didn't manage to keep it up for any more than his usual fifteen minutes, she'd be able to have that bath she was looking forward to all that much sooner.

  Mick Jennings' apartment was on Third Avenue, a little more than half a mile northwest of Lansdowne Park. The noise of the Ex didn't bother him at all. He and his girlfriend, Becki Bones, late of Toronto's punk scene, were listening to the Clash at full volume. Bass, drums, and guitars roared as Joe Strummer shouted out the lyrics to "Clampdown" from the band's two-LP set, London Calling.

  Mick was an old hippie who'd gone punk. He kept his hair short except for the two-and-a-half-inch Mohawk band that ran from the top of his brow to the nape of his neck. The tattered jeans he wore were the same as those he'd worn in the old days, but he'd traded in his MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR and SUN POWER T-shirts for ones like the Clash's COMBAT ROCK, or the one he was wearing now: a skull with a crossed fork and knife under it, white on black, the legend EAT THE RICH in bold print above the skull. The earring he now wore in his left earlobe was a silver Anarchy symbol— a capitol A enclosed in a circle— replacing the peace symbol mat had been there for so many years.

  He was a mechanic at the BP station on the corner of Riverdale and Bank where Ben Summerfield took his cab when it needed repairs. Ben knew him as a good-natured, somewhat aggressive proponent of the whole British punk/new wave scene— the music and ideologies of groups like the Damned and the Clash, Vice Squad and the Anti-Nowhere League. "I finally figured out that you can't solve everything with flowers," Mick had explained to Ben once. "Sometimes you've got to kick a little ass."

  "Any beer left?" Becki asked during the silence between cuts.

  She was about eighteen or nineteen— Mick didn't know which, and had never bothered to ask— with spiked black hair and strong Slavic features. The T-shirt she was wearing looked like someone had spilled battery acid all over it. There were rents and tears in all the strategic places, and you could only vaguely make out that it had once said SID LIVES.

  "I'll check," Mick said. He left the room, returning with a couple of Buds.

  "What're you smiling about?" Becki asked when he handed her one of the cans.

  "I was thinking of Ben— working his ass off with the Ex. He'll have fares running him from one end of the city to the other tonight."

  "I don't know why you hang around with him. He's so fucking straight."

  "Hey, Ben's a good shit, you know what I mean? I don't hear him bad-mouthing you."

  Becki shrugged. "Oh, I like him all right. I just think he's a little weird, that's all. All he does is drive that cab of his and read his space-and-elves books."

  "Well, we can't all change the world," Mick replied.

  He tilted his beer back, Adam's apple bobbing as he chugged. Paul Simonon, the Clash's bass player, was singing "The Guns of Brixton" now, something about having your hands on your head or on the trigger of a gun. When they came knocking on his door, Mick thought, he knew how he'd be stepping out.

  Farley O'Dennehy was panhandling in front of the Ex at closing time that night. He had his battered suitcase hoisted in one hand, and kept an eye out for the cops while he scanned the crowd for easy marks. He was feeling bold tonight— fueled by a couple of bottles of Brights wine. So far he'd pulled in six bucks and change. If he could work the crowd for another half hour or so without getting busted, he'd be getting so piss-drunk tomorrow that he wouldn't even miss the Ex and its easy pickings.

  "Hey, pal," he asked a man in white trousers and a light blue shirt. "Can you spare me a quarter?"

  "Fuck off, creep."

  "Yeah? Well, you can—" Farley broke off when he spotted six-feet-three and two hundred twenty pounds of Ottawa's finest looking in their direction. "— have a nice day," he finished lamely, and shuffled off.

  "You didn't have to be so mean," Stella Sidney told her boyfriend.

  "Aw, the guy bugged me," Rick replied. "Why the hell should he get a free ride? At least I work for my money."

  Rick Kirkby had just opened his own store— Captain Computer— and was filled with the righteousness of a small businessman standing up for the North American work ethic. Stella decided that it wasn't the time to remind him that if it hadn't been for her money, Rick would never have got the business off the ground in the first place. Bad enough he'd dragged her to th
e Ex tonight, without finishing the evening with a fight.

  "Let's go find the car," she said.

  "Yeah. Sure."

  Stella followed his distracted gaze to see that it was centered on two high school girls in tie-tops and cutoff jeans that were so short you could see the cheeks of their rumps hanging out.

  "Come on," she said.

  "Okay, okay. I was just looking."


  Monday Morning

  By three a.m., the streets were quiet. Humming the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" under his breath, a tall slender man stepped from the two-storied house he was renting on Willard Street in Ottawa South and ambled down the block to Cameron. He had short pale-blond hair and wore a lightweight suit with padded shoulders that hung stylishly from his lean frame. His eyes, when he stepped under the pooling glow of a streetlight, gleamed like blue crystals.

  The name on the passport he was currently using identified him as Lucius Marn, residing in Canada on an extended visit from the United Kingdom. It was the same name that he'd used to sign his lease. The name he had been given at birth, however, in a time long before the use of passports or other identifying papers, was Lysistratus.

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