Noah’s Boy – Snippet 20
* * *
Kyrie heard Tom shout, but didn’t have time to give it much thought, because Conan came running out of the storage room, banging the door behind him. She guessed, as she turned to take orders for coffee and sandwiches from the people seated on folding chairs, that Tom had finally lost patience with Conan and shouted at him.
Well, good. It seemed to have worked.
No one laughed, as Conan scurried to the open space in front of the tables, close to the corner booth with the picture of St. George slaying the dragon over it. Jason put a stool up there, at the last minute, and of course they didn’t have microphones, and Kyrie hoped that Conan could make himself heard over the low murmur of noise around the diner.
The murmur changed to approval as Conan climbed onto the stool, which was one from the bar, and just a little too tall, so his feet didn’t quite touch the floor. He looked like a kid wearing western wear for some play, but no one laughed, which must be a good thing.
She thought he was hiding his face behind his hat, but that was okay, provided he didn’t sing too badly. On the other hand, perhaps his voice, rather soft, in normal everyday interaction, wouldn’t carry enough to be heard. Which could be a plus. People would applaud politely, then leave.
This suspicion of what was about to happen was confirmed when Conan said, “My name is Conan Lung, and I’m going to sing my cover of Home.”
He could barely be heard and only the front row of tables clapped, politely.
Well, okay, Kyrie thought. It won’t be great, but it won’t be a disaster. She sought out Tom in the crowd, and when she failed to find him, assumed he was in the addition, perhaps, taking orders. As busy as they were, it would be all hands on deck.
And then Conan started playing. Kyrie was not an expert, but that was good guitar playing, so that was something.
Suddenly he sang. It was a shock. The voice that came out of the little Asian man in funny clothes was at least three times as large as his speaking voice, large enough to fill the entire diner. He was a tenor, but his range was… magnificent. Kyrie stepped backwards, as the rich voice enveloped her, singing of going home, of the longing for home. The song was of course familiar, but the voice — that voice. It wrapped around the diner, it echoed with emotion, it reached in and touched something in the mind and the heart.
The diner had gone absolutely quiet, so quiet it was as though people had stopped breathing. The only sound other than the singing was the hiss of frying oil behind the counter, and it took all of Kyrie’s presence of mind to realize that if the song had affected Anthony as it had affected her, then he’d be in danger of burning something. It took will power too, to move behind the counter and remove the fries from the oil and into the draining vat, then put another batch in.
As though her movement had awakened him, Anthony lurched to life, and started taking care of things, asking her in a whisper, “Where is Tom?”
“I don’t know. He must be waiting at tables.”
“I don’t think so. He hasn’t brought me any orders.”
“Well, he must –”
The song finished and talking became impossible for the storm of applause. In the center of it, Conan tilted his hat back and looked in shocked surprise at the crowd. Slowly, a dark red color suffused his cheeks. “Uh… You… You think…” He cleared his throat. He took his guitar up properly again, and played a few cords. The crowd quieted immediately, sat back down.
Conan smiled at them. “The next song is one I wrote and composed and it’s dedicated to a really special woman, Rya. Rya, if you’re out there, I was a jerk, and I wrote this for you.”
For a moment, Kyrie was afraid. Just because the man had a voice like golden syrup pouring on the perfect stack of pancakes, it didn’t mean he could write songs.
But the cords he played were slow and sad, and coherent, and when he started singing… Well, her first impulse was to dart up front, hit him on the head, make him stop singing.
Not that it was a bad song. On the contrary. It was a beautiful poem about wishing one could fly away from all one’s cares and mistakes. It was called If I Could Fly To You.
The problem was exactly that. Kyrie thought anyone would know this was about the experience of being a dragon shifter. And it took all her will power and her not inconsiderable self-control to realize that while the lyrics were plain to her, they wouldn’t be to anyone else. And she needed to shut up and let the man play.
She’d been accustomed to thinking of Conan as a boy, perhaps because of how he behaved to Tom, but it was obvious he was a man. His voice made him so, and she could see the shyness and the deference drop away from him as he sang and people in the crowd clearly drank in his voice and his words.
As he started a third song, after a storm of applause, Anthony said, in a whisper in the sudden silence, “I’m fairly sure Tom is still in the storage room, Kyrie. And that’s just not normal. He knows we’d need him out here and besides, you know… He’s not… he’s not that trusting, and he wouldn’t trust me with this load of frying if he were all right. He would be out here to check on me by now.”
Kyrie wished she could say otherwise. But Anthony was in fact, right.
Except… except maybe Tom had gone into the storage room to avoid making Conan nervous? No. That made no sense. Tom had gone into the storage room because Conan was nervous.
“You’re right,” she said. “I’ll go.” She stepped out to the pass through, and down the hallway to the door to the storage room.
From within she could hear someone groaning, but it didn’t at all sound like Tom. She called out “Tom?” And then she pushed the door open.
* * *
He had too many legs. That was the first thing Tom thought, followed shortly by the unavoidable fact that he had too many arms too. In fact, he also had too many eyes. The eyes were everywhere, looking at everything from full daylight to darkest night. The arms and legs were here and there, picking things, moving things, walking, running.
Some of his bodies appeared to be fighting. Others were sleeping. But he was all of them. He was everywhere.
No. Nonsense. I am Tom Ormson. I am in Goldport Colorado, in the storage room of a diner called The George.
This was absolutely and undeniably true. But it wasn’t the whole truth. He as also Johnny Li, a teenager in New Jersey, involved in a street fight, and trying very hard not to shift into a dragon. He had only shifted twice before, and he didn’t have a lot of self control, and he didn’t know how to avoid it.
Tom sent a firming thought Johnny’s way, with the firm admonition not to shift, but the moment of clarity, of identifying that one of his bodies, had already passed. In its place was the feeling of being everywhere and everyone at once.
He knelt on the floor of the storage room, and pressed his fists to his forehead, trying to calm a myriad sensory impressions that he knew were not coming from his body, and which were, nonetheless as real and immediate as though they were.
Eternity passed, and all he managed was the strong feeling that his principal part, his principal and most important body was Tom, here, in the storage room, kneeling on the floor.
But with it came a call — a need in many voices. All those people, all those bodies he was and yet wasn’t, were calling him. He must be the dragon. He must be seen. He must let the most important of them come and pay him homage. He must let the nearer ones assemble and recognize that the tribe of dragons had a new head, that the slain Great Sky Dragon lived again.
He understood enough of the call, of the need, of the mess in his head, to know what had happened, and what he was in for. He climbed, staggering, to his feet, and stood, shaking, “I don’t want it,” he said to the clear air around him. “Someone else should take it. I’m not even Asian, let alone Chinese. And I’m not the head of any triad.”
From the other side of the door — seemingly from another world away — Kyrie’s voice said, “Tom.”
And then the door opened, and let in the strains of a strong and smooth male voice singing “you are not alone.” And the sight of Kyrie’s shocked face staring into his.