St. Louis Ferry
I lean my staff against the doorframe and slip off my backpack. The hallway is deserted. I can almost hear the wind blow through, see a tumbleweed roll past. I search the bag looking for my information packet. Leave it to me to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I bet no one is wearing their costumes the first day either. My stomach twists painfully. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? I should go change. The inconvenience of being late is nothing to the mortification of walking in looking like Rey.
Where did that packet go?
“Hey. Star Wars girl,” a raspy male voice says.
I swivel around to find a squat middle aged man. A gold name tag reads, “Frankie.”
“So you’re with the conference.” Frankie turns and walks away. “You’re in the wrong place.”
I swing my backpack on and follow after the waddling figure.
“Where is the right place?”
He frowns over his shoulder. “I’m showing you, aren’t I?”
I stuff down a snarky comeback. “Oh. Thank you.”
Frankie leads me to a side door with a bright red exit sign. At the door, Frankie turns and hefts his pants up. “Those Realm people provided transportation.”
“Why did the conference move?”
“Not like it’s any of your business, but there was a scheduling conflict.” He turns with a wheeze and waddles away.
“Wait!” Frankie stalls at the sound of my voice. “Am I supposed to wear my costume to check-in? This is my first—”
He starts walking again. “How should I know?”
I grind my teeth in frustration and push the door open. The smell of back alley garbage hits my nose. I snort the putrid air out, but the view ahead makes me suck it back down in desperate gulps.
A black creature the size of a small moving truck with flippers as big as palm fronds turns it’s silky, seal-like face toward me. It belches and a few gallons of water fall from its mouth, splattering onto the pavement.
From behind the creature, a lean man in a polo shirt emerges. He lovingly runs a hand over the backside of the seal thing.
“Excuse me!” I call, “I was told there would be a car to take me to the Realm Makers Conference. Have you seen one?”
He waves me over, his face void of emotion. I creep forward. Please don’t ask me to pet your monster, dude.
“There ain’t no car.” He runs wet fingers through his shaggy hair. “You’ll take this ferry. Loch knows the way.”
“I–I beg your pardon? Loch?”
“Yup. As in Loch Ness. Call ‘er Nessie if you like. She don’t mind whichever way.”
For the first time, I notice an ornate leather saddle strapped to the creature. I take a step back. “I’m not getting on that thing.”
The man frowns at me in confusion. “Who’re you ‘sposed to be anyway?”
“What, really? I’m Rey from Star Wars.” Where’s this guy been?
He leans close to me, and the corner of his mouth quirks up in a conspiratorial smile. “Then act like it, huh?”
My spine straightens. Is he calling me a coward? Before I realize what I’ve done, I’m sitting in the saddle on Nessie, my feet snuggled into the stirrups.
“Here. Put this on.” The man hands me a bulky pair of goggles attached to a metal tube.
“What’s this?” I point to the tube.
“Oxygen. Put it on quick. Loch doesn’t like sittin’ long.”
I slip the mask on. With a hiss, air pours in and I take a deep breath. The cold tube hangs strangely off the side of my head.
Crap. Oh crap. Why do I need oxygen? I really don’t want to need oxygen.
“Hold tight!” the man shouts. I hear the slap of his hand on Nessie’s backside before we lurch forward. I slip sideways in my seat, then scramble for the saddle horn to right myself.
With the nauseating sound of gagging, water pours from Nessie’s mouth in a continuous stream. Instead of running through the gutter, it fills the space around us like we’re sitting in an invisible bowl. Nessie’s flippers paddle faster as the water rises. We exit the alley, spinning into a parking lot like a hamster ball.
Water continues to gush from Nessie’s mouth, filling what now appears to be an invisible bubble surrounding us. It spins like a wheel around me, raining onto my head from above. Soon there’s no more air in our bubble. Nessie’s mouth closes, and her flippers pump harder. We’re flying down a four-lane road, under a freeway, past tall buildings obscured by water.
Nessie passes under a red light without pausing. A car slams on its breaks, and the sound of it’s horn follows us down the street. A pedestrian, who probably saw the whole thing, displays a single finger and mouths something inarticulate.
We’re rounding the next corner when I plunge my staff out of the bubble to signal the turn. Water runs along its length, dripping onto a family on the corner.
I wave over my shoulder in apology.
Without warning Nessie lurches to a stop. I fly from the saddle and land hard on my hands and knees. When I look up, the spinning ball of water is half a block away.
“Aw bad luck,” a female voice says. I sit and flip my wet hair back. A girl in jeans and a t-shirt stares down at me. “You got Nessie? That’s what happens when you show up late. Hope your phone isn’t ruined.”
“Oh yeah. . . . I hope so too. Hey, are we supposed to wear our costumes today?” I pointlessly hide my staff behind my back.
The girl shrugs. “Not usually . . . but—”
“Oh no. . . .” I groan and drop my soggy head into my hands.
“Hey. Don’t worry about it. No one will think twice about your clothes.” She reaches down and pulls me to my feet. “You obviously belong here.”