by Rob Kameron
Reason cleared her throat between tedious tries at a paint job, in her tent late in the evening. In the Shadows, where it was hard enough to keep track of the most basic survival supplies—nice food, tolerable shelter, effective defence—the chances to truly unwind with personal activities and entertainment were very few and far between. Despite her cool exterior with Alexis, Reason was genuinely touched and excited by her fresh presence in this world. Even her initial entrance into their domain, and all the circumstances surrounding it, was very fairy tale-like in its mood and execution.
It was that same wonder that inspired Reason, for the first time in forever, to pick up a small easel and try to paint another self-portrait, using what meagre reflective glass, discoloured oils and assorted cloths and brushes she could pull together.
“’ey Reason,” exclaimed someone, poking their head into her tent. When Reason looked up, it was an expected face: Rhyme. Jesus, she thought bitterly: between me, Rumour, Rhyme, and other R-named people, is it any wonder some of the newbies have gone completely insane and thrown themselves into the subway tracks?
She shot down the cruel thought in her mind at once, so offended by her own stream of consciousness she couldn’t believe she could make light of such actions. In the Shadows, the Corpse—hell, even Golden Tracks or Sinner’s Way—there was a blur of so many different moods, directions and motivations, most people had given up on taking anything too seriously, even violence and death. It was a state of mind she never could’ve imagined having, based on her earlier memories of innocence and escapism through those fairy tale readings as a child. Still…at this stage of the game, you had to be tougher than kinder, or you’d just as well get yanked into the subway tracks yourself, in the murder-suicide fantasy of some ravaged veteran of these shadowlands.
“Yes, Rhyme? What is it?” she prodded, her painting already half-finished and smeared from candle heat and some floating dust.
“Just wanted to check on ye artwork, s’all! Oh, must you think so lowly of me? Oh, the shame of it…” teased Rhyme, a young boy, tanned and plump-cheeked—a surprising feature in these parts—and dressed in an oversized cap and long rags. A friend and former neighbour of Worm’s, he was a rare case in Greylands in that he had actually sought out the Shadows and entered them all by himself, in a chance trip through some garbage and back doors that were previously disguised as impenetrable brick walls. Fletch had come across him in a lantern-lit hallway and immediately seized him, hurling questions at him with speed and precision. It turned out Rhyme was another formerly-rich refugee, now alone and borderline dead, but with a strangely indomitable spirit. Reason took to him as soon as she had met him, and even during some harsh training sessions with Pops, Rhyme was not broken down, a child truly open-minded and willing to learn anything, no matter how cynical.
Speaking of which—Reason jerked to her side on instinct; Rhyme had been leaning forward in a not-so-subtle attempt to look at her latest loot bag, one of many stacked neatly in the darker corners of her expansive, rippling tent home. “Nice try, my dear!” she whined, and turned briefly to spit out a slice of meat she had been chewing on long past what was necessary.
The boy snapped back just in time to catch a long glimpse of Reason’s portrait. So concerned was she that he might’ve fallen over, she didn’t even notice how long he had been studying it.
“Ye getting better all the time,” he pointed out to the picture, but she fast grew embarrassed. It was quite uncommon for any of the dwellers to be seen in these activities, let alone to share them with others. Maverick was one of the few who had been surprisingly supportive, however. She had the impression that maybe painting and sketching were things he had enjoyed doing in his boyhood with Jack and others.
“She’s a beauty, she is,” continued the boy, and this time Reason showed a small smile, her infamous smile that, come to think of it, was often stared at by Mav—something she refused to acknowledge, after catching glimpses of some of his work with the ladies.
“Thanks, hon,” she replied, and the two of them remained there, she on a cushion and he on the dusty ground, half a shoe on. They stared at the painting until it almost seemed to change texture and shape. Was it a hallucination, or were Reason’s ideas and monuments more skillful than she was led to believe?
“Is it magic?” piped up Rhyme all of a sudden, and she shivered. Rhyme got his very name because most people were so caught off-guard by his brightness and voice, it was like being caught in a whirlwind of uplifting music and poetry. Not to mention, Rhyme also had a habit of singing to himself and wandering the tent grounds like he was in a peaceful playpen, and not a spoiled commune. “If you’re gonna weave us around like that all the time,” Jack had stated to him back in his parlour, “we may as well call you Rhyme. Your optimism is intriguing. I don’t know how valuable it’ll be to us in the long run, so you’d better not lose control of it. My colleagues and I have never been terribly forgiving, even to people we’ve known. Just ask Bosner.”
Back in the tent, the couple was unrelenting in their focus. The painting melted and twisted and turned, contorting Reason’s plain and dark features into a more open figure. It almost resembled Rhyme for a second, they were both shocked to notice, but neither articulated that.
“Very nice, Mam. Very nice, I say. I walk through here, see so many lovely things. But this, this is somethin’ else. Don’t lose ye talent now,” murmured Rhyme, who then characteristically skipped and whistled his way back out of the folded entrance, a few covertly-snatched gold trinkets and juice cans jingling in his pockets, to Reason’s amusement.
“Yeah,” she hummed, “Don’t lose yours, either.”