"The Unknown, Unpredictable Change"
[Saturday, September 26, 2015]
Ansel strolled through
the Lyonesse Faire
just outside River City.
The weather was cool and
pleasantly fresh, the sunlight
dappling through autumn leaves.
Nebuly had convinced Turq
and a few of the centaurs
to come to the faire, since
it had some fantasy elements.
A donkey girl played a sprightly tune
on a fiddle. She wore a red blouse
and a long autumn-colored skirt,
between which a dark brown tail
stuck out. She had the big teeth
and long ears of a donkey, too,
and her middle fingers were fused.
Amergin had been dueling with her
earlier, guitar against violin, and
Ansel hoped they'd do it again.
Turq and Ansel hesitated at
a crossroads, torn between
the delights in all directions.
"Kiddie Kingdom?" Ansel said
at the same time Turq said,
"Linen Lane? I want to see
what fibercrafts they have."
"I could come with you,"
Ansel said immediately.
"Yeah, but we want
different things, and it's
a big faire," Turq said,
looking at the map. "We
could split up and meet later."
"If you're comfortable with that,"
Ansel agreed. "Synch vidwatches?"
They had to dig in their beltpouches
do that. Nebuly's family had insisted
the faire would be more fun if they
dressed up, and supplied garb.
They had been right, too.
The only thing Ansel wore that
wasn't reasonably period was
his police pin, just in case
someone needed help.
"See you in twenty minutes,"
Turq said, and trotted away.
He was getting more confident,
and that was a good thing --
probably the centaurs helped,
because they looked up to him.
Ansel entered the Kiddie Kingdom,
eagerly looking around at the displays.
He was always interested in finding
new ways to connect with children
for his community outreach work.
There was a fairy with delicate wings
of blue and green, and a patch of
aquamarine scales on her face.
As Ansel watched, she cast a
spray of sparkling lights in the air.
"Fairy blessing?" she offered.
Her magic was still twinkling
along the edges of his senses.
"Yes, please," Ansel said
as he stepped toward her.
She cast the next handful
of lights over him, glittering.
Ansel tipped her handsomely
and went deeper into the kingdom.
The mermaid pool was a half-moon pond
in front of a miniature purple house.
Lounging inside it was a young woman
whose white-blonde hair had streaks of
turquoise and ultramarine. Her tail was
cerulean with a mulberry spot on the fin.
As she sang, her ethereal voice floated
over the faire, drawing a gaggle of little girls
toward the pool. One of them, in a wheelchair,
had difficulty moving through the crowd.
Ansel stepped up and gently shooed
people out of the way so she could pass.
"Oh, you're just like me!" the mermaid said.
"I need wheels to travel over dry land.
Even our hair looks almost the same."
The blonde mother was looking around
almost frantically for something, anything,
to make that near-match even closer.
"The same booth that sells fairy bows also
has colorful clip-in hair," Ansel said, pointing.
He wandered on, looking at the baker
who sold little gingerbread houses and
beautiful hand-carved fancies of fruit, then
a storytelling circle with mushroom seats.
He was looking at bubblemaking supplies
when someone tapped him on the shoulder.
Turning around, he saw the fairy from earlier.
"I saw your police pin when you came in,"
she said. "Are you available to help?"
"Yes ma'am," Ansel said. "How?"
"Code Gretel," the fairy said. "We
need all the searchers that we can get.
Her name is Adira DeLisle. Toasty skin,
black eyes, and curly dark brown hair
wearing a pink top and green skirt.
Her parents say she's not the type
to run off, so they're worried."
Ansel immediately turned in place,
trying to imagine what might have
enticed a child away from this.
If she wasn't prone to wandering,
she probably wasn't just distracted,
which meant she had some reason
for not being where she should be.
The Kiddie Kingdom was full of
nooks and crannies for children
to play in, but people wearing
the fleur-de-lys of staff were
already poking into those.
Nobody was checking
the bushes that rimmed
the outer edge of the area,
though, and those might
offer hiding places too.
"I'm no expert, but I do have
basic search-and-rescue training,"
Ansel said. "I'm happy to help."
He drifted toward the fringe,
trying not to look too nosy,
just casually moseying along.
He watched the shadows
for anything out of the ordinary.
Then he heard the hidden sniffle.
If there was one thing Ansel
was used to by now, it was
people crying quietly because
they didn't want to be seen.
He moved a little closer.
"Someone sounds upset,"
he said softly. "Can I help?"
"Go away!" she squeaked.
"Well, maybe," Ansel said.
"I'm looking for a girl named
Adira. Have you seen her?"
Another sniffle. "That's me,"
she admitted. "But go away."
"Sorry, I can't do that," Ansel said.
"Your parents are looking for you,
and I heard they're really worried.
Is there some reason that you don't
want to be with them right now?"
"I can't let anyone see me
like this," she wailed.
"Oh, did something spill?"
Ansel said. "That's never fun."
"No," she said, hitching a sob,
"but it sure looks that way."
"How does it look?" Ansel said.
"It's all blotchy and awful,"
Adira said. "I'm so -- so ugly!"
"Gosh, that's not a nice thing
to say," Ansel mourned. "Just
yesterday someone told me
I looked like a pink poodle,
and that really hurt."
Leaves rustled, and
a brown eye peeked out.
"You really are pink!"
"Just my hair," he said.
"I'm called Officer Pink."
Adira gave a soggy giggle.
"You look more like a pencil troll,"
she said, then hastily added,
"I like pencil trolls, they're cute."
"Then I'll take it as a compliment,"
Ansel said. "I do need to get you
back to your parents, though."
The leaves twitched again as Adira
withdrew deeper into the thicket.
Ansel really didn't want to chase her.
Kids could squirm through places
you'd think a rabbit couldn't go.
"Is there anything that would help
you feel like coming out?" he asked.
"Wait until dark," Adira said. "Then
nobody could see how bad I look."
"Nope, that's hours away," Ansel said,
looking around for other inspiration.
"But I have an idea! Sit tight."
He hurried over to the booth that
sold fairy blankets. They were
lightweight flannel printed with
adorable watercolor designs.
"Police emergency, I need
a blanket," he said, offering
the vendor a card that would
let her claim reimbursement
from his department later.
"Take your pick," she said.
Ansel grabbed the closest one --
with a flower that looked like
wisteria -- and ran back to Adira.
"Here," he said. "I brought you
a blanket so nobody can see you."
A tiny hand reached out of the leaves.
It was splashed in hot pink and lime green,
making Ansel wonder about some kind
of accident at a facepainting booth.
Then he saw the colors moving.
They swirled in very slow motion
across the back of her hand as she
snatched the blanket and dragged it
into the depths of the bushes.
Only when she was bundled up
like a mummy did Adira come out.
"Lean against me and I'll make sure
you don't bump into anything," Ansel said.
"Your parents are waiting at the castle."
That was the centerpoint of Kiddie Kingdom
and a designated rendezvous point.
"I'm scared," Adira said. "What if ...
what if it never goes away?"
"It might, it might not," Ansel said.
"Either way, I bet you'll feel better
with your parents for support than
trying to handle all that alone."
"Yeah," she said, sniffling.
Ansel hugged her. "Life is about
the unknown, unpredictable change,"
he said. "Though you have no control
over tomorrow, what you can do today can
help you live with intention. The journey
in between ‘what you once were’ and ‘who
you are becoming’ is crucial. Don’t waste it."
"I'll try," Adira said. "It's just ... today
was so fun before this happened."
"You'll have fun again later on,"
Ansel said. "Bad days stink,
but they don't last forever.
And here we are at the castle!"
Adira's father was tawny-fair
with dark almond-shaped eyes,
her mother was brown with
long black dreadlocks, and
her baby sister a mix of the two.
Adira plastered herself against
her father, blanket still firmly in place.
"Oh, she's so adorable," Ansel said.
He couldn't resist cooing over the baby.
"Thank you," said their mother.
"Not everyone is that open-minded."
Ansel pulled out his smartphone.
"This is my sister's wedding."
The photo showed himself wearing
the silly ivory suit and yellow bow tie,
tucked between his very blonde sister
and her very dark-skinned groom.
"So your daughter's a little peek
into the future for me," Ansel said.
"I'm hoping to get a niece like her."
White teeth flashed a brilliant smile
against dark skin. "Then I wish you luck.
I'm Themis DeLisle. I'm in External Affairs
at the River City Police Department."
"Officer Pink, at your service," he said.
"I do community outreach in Bluehill."
"Oh, I've heard of you!" Themis said.
"You helped crack -- that thing this spring."
"I did, and some of my friends came here
to see the fantasy elements of the fair,"
Ansel said. "I should text them."
"Go ahead, this could take a bit,"
Themis said, looking at Adira.
Ansel sent a quick note to Turq
and the others, letting them know
that work had come up and was
fine but might delay him some.
"Thank you for finding her,"
Adira's father said. "I'm Ling,
and I'm an inclusivity consultant for
people who want real infrastructure,
not just diversity window dressing."
"Could I get a business card?"
Ansel said. "My department is
always looking for inclusivity ideas,
and there's this college my friends
are sort of maybe trying to revive."
"Honey, move a bit, I need to reach
my pants pocket," Ling said, then
fished out a business card for Ansel.
"Here, my website has examples
of my rates and popular packages,
along with ideas for custom work."
"Well, it looks like you have
a great background for that
with your family," Ansel said.
"I'm Chinese-American, my wife
Ling said proudly. "It adds up."
"Fantastic, my friend Turq is
Chinese-American too," said Ansel.
"Maybe you can meet some time."
As Ling was putting his card-holder
back is pants, the blanket slipped.
"Goodness, Adira, did you get into
the facepaint?" Themis exclaimed.
Adira started crying again.
"That's not facepaint,"
Ansel said quietly.
"Her skin did that."
"Oh!" Themis said,
her eyes widening.
do you remember
"Uh huh," said Adira.
"She worked at a circus
as Louise the Leopard Girl,
but the newspapers called
her the Piebald Negress.
She had vittle eyes."
"Vitiligo, that's right,"
said Themis. "Do you
know, that's linked with
Chameleon Skin? Some
superpowers are related
to ordinary things like that."
"Wow," said Ansel. "I hadn't
heard about that connection."
"My doctor likes to hand out
news of discoveries," said Themis.
"Every once in a while, someone
links a precursor with a power."
Ansel took out his smartphone
and made a note so that he could
look it up later. "Thanks for the tip."
"I guess we'll need to call SPOON
and see about getting a mentor,"
Ling said. "It's supposed to help."
"Highly recommended," Ansel said.
"My mentor has totally saved
my bacon, more than once."
"You need a mentor for
pink hair?" Ling asked.
"Absolutely," said Ansel.
"Skippy's a teleporter, though.
We got together by accident but
we really fit. He's the one who
figured out I need to eat more."
"Like brightly colored birds?"
Themis said. "It takes them
more energy to make the colors."
"Yep, that's it exactly," Ansel said.
"I don't know if Chameleon Skin is
a high-burn talent, but I have seen
teleporters inhale a whole cheesecake."
Adira's head popped up. "I like
cheesecake, but I'm not allowed
to have more than one slice."
"Then you have a reason to ask
someone to check on your body,
because if you need extra calories,
cheesecake is a good option,"
Ansel said. "Think about that."
Her face crumpled. "I still don't
want anyone to see me like this."
"Doctors have seen all kinds of
crazy things, and soup doctors
even more so," Ansel said.
"One time, my healer saw me
melt down because two inches
of my hair turned back to brown."
"Really?" Adira said, blinking at him.
"Really, truly," Ansel said. "It hadn't
been pink very long, but I got attached
to it fast and my old color felt wrong."
"These colors feel wrong," Adira said.
"Mom's right, I look like spilled paint!"
"Actually, you look like your top and
skirt, mixed together," said Themis.
"Remember when we went to the zoo
and saw the hide-and-seek lizards?"
"The ones on leaves were green,
and the ones on bark were brown, and
the ones on flowers -- OH!" said Adira.
"My skin went like the lizards did."
"It sure did," said Themis. "I think
it's just mixed up because it's new."
"Many people with Chameleon Skin
can learn to control it," Ansel said.
"Some can do really fancy patterns.
If you like show business, you could
make a job of it, like your ancestress.
Circus performers like that are called
Very Special People. It's been
a haven for soups, for years."
"I liked being in the school play,"
Adira said. "Acting was fun."
"Some of my friends who look
different even came to this faire
because it has fantasy elements,"
said Ansel. "They wanted to see
if that looked like fun for them.
So far I've seen a donkey girl,
a fairy, and even a mermaid."
"I missed the mermaid," said Adira.
"I was smelling flowers when it happened."
The flower garden had been right before
the mermaid pond, Ansel recalled. She
must have run for cover and missed it.
"Maybe you can come back on a day
when you're feeling more comfortable
in your own skin, and meet the mermaid,"
said Ansel. "She's very nice. Last I saw,
she was talking to a girl in a wheelchair."
"We are definitely meeting the mermaid,"
Ling said. "I'd love to talk with her."
Themis chuckled. "He's always
hunting for new accommodations."
"Perhaps you can trade time with
some of my friends," Ansel said.
"They come in all kinds."
"I've seen the news,"
Ling said. "How do
your centaurs walk on
concrete? It's so slick!"
"That I actually do know,"
Ansel said. "Gel horseshoes,
or hoof boots with rubber treads."
"Yeah, that should work," Ling said,
making a note on his smartphone.
Then Adira yawned. "Can we
go home? I'm really tired now."
"New superpowers can be
exhausting," Ansel said.
"But look at your hands --
I think they're starting to fade.
Sometimes a first flicker
doesn't last very long."
"Yay," Adira said. "I still
want the blanket, though."
"It's all yours," Ansel said.
"I bought it from the booth."
"Thank you," Adira said.
"All right, time to go home,"
Ling said. "Officer Pink, I
hope to hear from you soon."
"Sure, and here's my card,"
Ansel said, handing him one.
When he left the castle,
the faire employees
spotted him and grinned,
giving him thumbs-up
and scattered applause.
The fairy girl came over
and wrote HERO on his shirt,
the gold glitter of her power
clinging to the soft cloth.
Ansel caught up to Turq
only ten minutes late, and
Charli was with him, festooned
in candy-pink barding and
crowned with silk flowers.
"People keep thinking that
I work for the faire!" she said.
"It sounds like so much fun."
"I'm happy to hear that,"
Ansel said with a smile.
"What's that all about?"
Turq pointed to his shirt.
Ansel's stomach growled.
"I'll tell you on the way to
the food booths," he said.
* * *
This poem is long, so its character, location, and content notes appear separately.