0003 Dalera 09: Patience

Today started with a dream:

It's late, and Jessie and I and two other people are driving in the darkness. We're lost, and we're tired, and we need to find a place to stop for the night. We come across a manorhouse, and the servant that answers the door looks at us suspiciously and tells us that, "the families are under oath not to turn away the needy, but tonight was a bad night for us to arrive." He assigns us each a room by giving us each a card and telling us to sleep in our specified quarters, nowhere else, and then in the morning we should be gone with first light if we can.

The two people with us that I didn't recognize received the same room, a "master bedroom for guests" with a king-sized bed meant for two people. In one corner of the room is a rope, and the servant says that it holds the chandelier in another room above someone's bed. They crawl into bed and are unconscious almost instantly, tossing and turning. He mentions off-handedly what a tragedy it would be if one of the guests pulled the rope loose in their sleep. As we're leaving, we hear a crash, and then a few drops of blood spatter the sheet covering our "associates."

Jessie receives a room with a single day bed and we reluctantly part, knowing we'd be incapable of sharing that space to sleep. My room is upstairs somewhere. I'm told that it's in the Topiary, near the Cambrai Hall, or at least that's what I think I hear. I tell the servant I think I can find it, and he looks at me skeptically but leaves me to wander the halls of this ancient house, filled with living plants and shadows. Twice I go up a staircase and think I've come back to the same landing as before.

All of the rooms and halls are labelled in small brass plaques, but what I thought was archaic English may not be. The word I heard as "Cambrai" is spelled with something that's either an abnormally stylized "final i" or else it's some other letter entirely, a short vertical stroke with a long intro serif, more like a one or a stylized seven than a letter. Now I'm starting to doubt what I heard, and where I am. I still haven't slept; I can't find my room. I find the Topiary, but not the bedroom I've been told is within, and I'm loath to fall asleep anywhere else, now more than ever.

In time, sunlight starts to filter into the house, and I start to hear voices as people rise. Twice I see people in Edwardian garb talking in the halls, and only luck keeps me from being seen. I'm not supposed to be here. Someone spots me and approaches, an older woman with red hair. She smiles when she sees me and addresses me as quot;Adama," saying it's good to see me again after so long. I stammer my way through a conversation, apologizing for being distracted and claiming I haven't slept a wink. She says she understands, expressing excitement at a "full gathering" after so long. She says she'll see me at breakfast in the main hall.

I say, "Thanks, auntie," on a hunch, and she makes a face, obviously annoyed. She tells me that she's tired of that joke and reminds me that I'm her cousin, not her niece. I blush and apologize, saying it was meant in jest and that if it stung, I was sorry. She's mollified at this and leaves me to my search. I find the bedroom, but now I'm too curious to sleep, and didn't we have to be gone at first light? I hurry downstairs, looking for Jessie's room or the others, but the house has changed. Her room is gone, and in its place is a long, open space lined with statues.

I start to panic, but before I can do anything an older man grabs my shoulder, spins me around, and begins to regale me with how wonderful it is to see the family's "shining star." He goes on at length about how he knew from the first moment he saw me that I would go on to do great things, that he knew it from my sculpt. I blink, and he motions behind me to an empty space in the corridor where he is obviously seeing something I can't. He describes it in detail, and others present nod admiringly. He then tells me that outside, everyone is "muddy" and "cloudy", but that he can spot a member of the clan in an instant because they're "clear" with a "shining heart" inside. My panic is at odds with my confusion. If he can spot outsiders, why haven't I been sent away yet?

Everyone leaves, and I ask someone in parting if there's breakfast. He looks at me patronizingly and says it's in the Great Hall, but that I should watch myself, as Brogan—I think—has it in for me. I follow the crowd, and on the way I hear someone say, disparagingly, "once a Mercedes, always a Mercedes." No-one's looking at me as this is being said; I think it's in reference to Brogan. I still have no idea what's happening, but now I'm more hungry than tired.

Sunlight floods the Great Hall and six longtables are set with fine china and genuine silver. Servants bring in food and start serving, and we all take our seats. Someone pelts me with a roll, and I turn to see a man—a grown boy, really, not much older than I— with a sneering smirk and sideburns, in a white button-down shirt, brown suspenders that match his pants and shoes, and gold cufflinks. I heft the roll as if to throw it back, but before I can a crash fills the hallway. One of the servants, in adjusting a heavy mirror hanging on the wall, has brought it down on top of himself. Part of the glass has shattered and spilled on the ground, the rest crushing him under its weight.

In a flash, Brogan is rushing to the back of the hall, reciting lyric inspirational poetry, and suddenly I understand everything. The clan is filled with hereditary mages, and I am apparently one of my generation's most powerful; I'm expected to rise one day to lead. The Mercedes family has long been marginalized because their power is weak, but they're planning a coup because unlike most of the families, they actually train in their talents, learning to make the most of what they have. Brogan Mercedes is my rival for leadership of the clan, not very powerful, but very showy and very skilled at what he can do.

Brogan puts the audience in thrall as he infuses strength into the family servant, lifting one trembling fist in a gesture of triumph. The servant groans and strains, and then lifts the heavy glass and silver mirror off of himself, rising and single-handedly returning it to the wall. Brogan turns to me, smirks again, waves his hand at the shattered glass, and spits a final couplet that fuses the shards of shattered glass into a heart-shaped mirror. The Mercedes family erupts in applause for their golden child while the remainder of the gathered clap half-heartedly.

A few elders look to me, disapprovingly. An older woman—likely an aunt, perhaps the mother of the woman with red hair—clucks her tongue at me and chides me for letting Brogan show off and prove he's got the gift. If I'd just lifted the mirror, I could've gotten the applause and put Brogan in his place. I smile back and say that I've forced Brogan to give away his method, that in his haste to demonstrate what he could do, he's revealed his focus, and that now if I need to face him, I know how to put a stop to his powers. This earns me some raised eyebrows and some quiet chuckles as the clan's next leader proves her worth once more.

That's when my body said I'd had enough sleep, and I had work besides. I could try to analyze this one, and there are just enough hooks to point me in the right direction, but I'm loath to spoil what was in all other regards this really awesome hidden-reality vision of modern people in fin de siècle clothing and magic and internecine feuding.

In other news, Jessie and I have once again surfed the Luck Plane.

Those who've been following the continuing saga know that I filed bankruptcy, and that I surrendered the house. As part of my bankruptcy plan, I had to keep paying the utilities on the property until the bank got around to the
foreclosure. That, as it turned out, would be a long and arduous process. They told me that, because I was still in bankruptcy, they were legally obliged to leave me alone and not contact me or do anything with or to the house or mortgage. I didn't have to pay, of course, and they weren't going to ask me to do so, but they also had a backlog of cases to resolve and weren't in any hurry to deal with me because of the bankruptcy flag. Thus, I thought I'd be in a state of limbo for a while, paying for utilities on two places.

One of the bills on my list of obligations was, of course, the combined water/sewer/trash bill. The trash portion of the bill was a non-negotiable seventy-seven dollars and twenty-five cents, and I even called to try to get that relieved but met a brick wall. The water/sewer portion, however, was a negligible amount, perhaps fifty dollars each every three months to cover the water that evaporated out of the heating system or flowed through the pipes to keep them from freezing in winter. I wrote off the bill every quarter as an annoyance, but not really anything I could fix for several months at a minimum.

Last Saturday, I received a bill from the Borough of Pottstown for one month's water/sewer/trash, not three. The bill amount was USD5977.20. That's over an order of magnitude greater than the last bill, for one-third of the time. The bill also tells me how much water that is, and according to the meter, I used 968,660 gallons of water. In a month.

On Thilya, I called the utility department and asked them to check the meter. The clerk said that she'd be glad to help out, since this was "highly abnormal," and that they'd call be back in a few days to tell me what the real reading on the meter was.

Bralya morning, she woke me up with a call at 08h00, telling me that she was sorry to call so early, but that she had authorized the utility department to turn off the water at the street, because "the agent that went out to read the meter said he could hear water running inside the house, and the meter was even higher than before." I told her she did the right thing, and that I'd have to call my lawyer to find out next steps. She asked me when I'd be able to come out and have a plumber find out what was wrong, and I took the five minutes to explain the whole story to her. At the end, she replied with a quiet "oh" and then thanked me for letting her know before ending the call.

My lawyer didn't have great news for me at first; the bill was obviously mine to handle, because I was obligated to pay the utilities. However, when I told him of the "running water" bit, he said I needed to contact
Countrywide as soon as possible to let them know there might be damage to the property and that they might take care of things, but he didn't leave me with a lot of hope on the matter. I called Countrywide on Thursday afternoon, but I spent half an hour in IVR-hell and then gave up.

Kimya morning, I managed to get through to an operator and got the name of the specialist assigned to my case. I then proceeded to get him on the phone with me, live, and give him a fast synopsis of the problem, ending the explanation with "you need to do something because Countrywide's investment here is at potential risk of damages." His response was, essentially, to tell me that anything I had been told prior about his company not being able to do anything because of my bankruptcy was crap. He said that, as my surrender of the property was in an approved plan, that was as good as relief from stay in the eyes of the law and that he was going to file the paperwork to move me out of bankruptcy status. He told me to call back in a week, and that I should be able to get through to general customer service instead of the bankruptcy department. They would then be able to tell me where to send the bill and everything else.

So, by Slacking off, I've been able to pass the buck on some kind of major plumbing disaster at my old property, sidestep a six-thousand-dollar bill, jump the queue on the foreclosure track, drop some karma on the mortgage company that would still be getting paid if only they'd negotiated a short sale in the first place, and leave a mess for somebody else to clean.

I feel like I ought to feel bad about my failure to be the responsible adult in this situation, but I'm too busy bathing in schadenfreude to care.

I'm into making lampshades out of the skin of "just his way"people.