Ken Keller ~ First Impressions

Episode 12: First Impressions

part of: The Shadowed Ones

by Jeff Beardwood

Related by Daegle, Member of the Shadowed Elite in the Fourth Generation of the Wanderers

From the outside, Clan House looked much like any other urban residence. From the sidewalk, a concrete set of stairs led to a double door. There was almost no front lawn. Vines wrapped around a trellis between the window and the door with an aggressive fervor that any living thing in the hunt for survival could both recognize and appreciate. The door was framed in dark wood trim. Up close, faint etchings of graffiti could be seen carefully masked behind a skilled paint job. Who ever Bob and Sue were, their undying love encompassed with a crude heart was only apparent to someone hesitating at this door for quite some time…like me.

Call it a work habit, but I was ridiculously prompt down to the last seconds when I summoned the nerve to at last press the doorbell.

It chimed a faint, simple melody. Then footsteps followed, a soft “thwop-thwop” ended at the door. Not the stride of someone who eluded Peanut so many weeks ago, but the stride of someone safe in her own space. I could feel the eye peering through the peep hole, rather than see it. Or so I imagined until at last the door latch clicked and the door swung open.

A wave of warmth swept me away. The evening air was slightly chilly…the contrast intoxicating. Soft light spilled out onto the steps; an apt accompaniment. If all this gave me a sense of comfort, the scents from the kitchen as I took a step inside melted me into a puddle of contentment. I could discern garlic and baking bread, along with some spices I was only vaguely familiar with. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply as I heard the door close behind me. At last I turned to focus on the person who had answered the door.

There she was…Katia. Her long chesnut locks pulled back, but only loosely bound. Her eyes, fixed on me, were still the palest blue I’d ever seen. That night she wore a blouse that made me think of gypsies. Over one shoulder was a drape of material similar to the way one would wear a sari, the material pattern small and intricate, filled with rich reds, golds and greens.

“Hello Daegle. I’m so glad you came.” She hugged me then. I wrapped my arms around her, buried my cheek in her hair over her left shoulder. We rocked slightly to an unheard rhythm for the longest time before the moment passed and I pulled back to look into her eyes.

“So am I,” I told her, smiling.

In the distance, I heard pots clank, soft conversations, children playing. Not unlike the sounds I’d heard when I had called.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got here…who would be around,” I admitted.

“We play things pretty much by ear here, go with what seems right in the moment. My clan is here…some of our extended clan too. I did think you might want to get your feet in the door before you were accosted,” she laughed.

“Appreciated. I must admit I’ve been nervous about meeting them.”

“And now?” she asked.

“Now I feel surprisingly comfortable.”

She nodded, as if I had confirmed a suspicion.

We walked back toward what turned out to be the kitchen. If, from the outside the Clan House appeared ordinary, inside it was anything but. We passed places where plants grew in almost jungle density on either side of us. The space was unusually large for an urban home. The ceilings were very high. As we walked, I stopped to look at a series of gigantic murals along one wall. There were people, drawn in primary colors…their shapes made up of strange geometric patterns. It reminded me of Inuit art applied to an urban setting. It was captivating.

“Our Windsong is very talented when it comes to paints,” Katia said in explanation, following my gaze.

“Windsong is…?”

“Waiting impatiently in the kitchen, no doubt,” she answered with that sing-song laugh again as it sunk in this was a person she was talking about.

The scents of amazing foods grew stronger; the garlic more pungent; more sweet. I began to pick up a hint of tomato as the base behind the subtle blends.

“And someone is very talented when it comes to foods too,” I mentioned.

“We’ve all had a hand, but K’oja would be the master artist there,” she told me.

As I walked across the threshold of the kitchen, a blur of laughter with a smudged face tumbled into my legs. I reached down to steady his balance and swept him into the air. This only caused the laughter to grow exponentially.

“And who is this little rocket?” I asked.

“That would be Raell,” said a man by the counter, smiling at the greeting I had received. He approached me with hand outstretched as I set Raell back on his own two feet. “And I am K’oja. Very pleased to meet you Daegle.”

I shook his hand. “K’oja! Katia tells me you are the master chef to be thanked for these wonderful scents I’m smelling. I wasn’t terribly hungry until I walked in the door here. I believe you’re turning the tide.”

He actually blushed at the compliment. Though he studied me closely, there was no fear or mistrust. I looked around the room. It was indeed a full room. I could sense fear from none of them. Only welcome and curiousity. I’d dreamed of this meeting only in terms of an underlying mistrust. Before I became lost in my own bafflement, Katia began the introductions. I tried to be attentive as she went around the room. All of these people I came to know so well…D’hlea and Windsong, Gillia, Arcono, Dhona, Dyre, Felice and Mallen…all welcomed me warmly as I tried to etch the memory of name to face in those first introductions.

I was so comfortable, Katia’s next suggestion surprised me. She asked, “Why don’t you and I go take a walk in the back yard and talk while dinner is finished Daegle?”

“Can we be of any help here?” I asked, partly because it seemed the polite thing to do and partly because I was reluctant to leave the feeling of acceptance. Perhaps I had been away from my pod too long.

“We have plenty of hands to make this light work,” D’hlea told me.

“And we have so much to talk about,” Katia reminded me.

“Indeed. I’ve just been made so welcome, it felt like home,” I said.

“Very glad to hear you feel that way,” said K’oja. “We’ll get to talk more as a group later on, I’m sure.”

Katia placed her hand on my shoulder and guided me toward a door at the other side of the kitchen. We managed to weave our way through the crowd, around the fixtures and walked out into a small but beautiful garden paradise.

Once again I was walking in the chilly evening air. The light was dim, the moon rose high along the azure horizon. Katia led me to a trickling fountain, a focal point of the garden. She sat beside it, in a bed of clover and beckoned me to join her, which I did. As she crossed one leg over the other I noticed for the first time her feet were bare. I don’t know why it struck me, but it did. Perhaps it was the cool nip in the air.

She looked deeply into my eyes for a long moment, then she said, “Ok, we’re face to face. We’re in a quiet place of comfort. I want you to ask me the first question that comes to your mind now.”

Thinking back, perhaps the first question I asked should have been about her disappearing trick when we first met. Or what it means to her to be a Wanderer. Or why she felt it necessary to hound me and my pod. All of those things needed to be asked and more. So what did I ask to set the tone?

“Where are your shoes?”

As soon as I said it I felt ridiculous. Katia did laugh, but seemed in no way to consider it ridiculous. She wiggled her toes a bit, then laughed some more before saying, “I guess that says a lot about you and me.”

It was then she leaned forward and kissed me.