“Recto Verso” by: Scott Parks and Ashley Crookham

Whritmorh Street.  A narrow winding road of clothing stores, café’s, bistros, and curio shops intermixed with art galleries and jewelry stores for the more upscale shopper.  Accustomed mainly to foot traffic, it could be the type of street in any cosmopolitan district.  What makes Whritmorh Street different, is that its clientele are fictional characters. It is one of the many streets they visit after a novel or short story is written.

Miko walked down the street with purpose, eyeing the windows and doors.  She was unaccustomed to the quiet peaceful nature of this town.  Not having to fight for survival since her last novel was as new as friendship and making her own decisions.  She smiled as she walked, she liked this feeling.

She turned into the Recto Verso, her new favorite tea shop.  It wasn’t the tea in the shop she had fallen in love with, it was the smoothie bar inside the tea shop.  The mango fruit smoothies they served were out of this world, literally and figuratively.

Miko waved to the tender behind the smoothie bar and held up two fingers. He was a mind reader from Dale Grove’s Outlier Revolutions and therefore it was an unnecessary gesture on her part but the smoothie bar tender nodded and began clanging glasses readying the frozen mixtures.

At the entrance, Freida held the door for a few more patrons before entering. She meandered past the counter, around a half wall, and through the mismatched furniture until a couple rose from their seats. They were wearing running clothes and stretching their legs as they sought the exit. Even though they had left a signed copy of the short story “Born to Stub” as a tip for their waiter, Freida still thought it was rude of them to leave their dishes on such a busy morning. She bused the table herself, pulling a hand embroidered rag from her skirt pocket to clear the crumbs.

With a final reshuffling of the coxcomb flowers, Freida gestured to Miko to come over, “This one is ready. I’ll wait with you here until your guest arrives.” She leaned in casually, and didn’t notice as Miko stiffened from the proximity, “Ashley Crookham’s book Virtue Chasm actually got me to prefer coffee.”

Miko set down her cups and took off her duster coat. “I’m not meeting anyone here.” She mindlessly wiped dust from her boots, they were still dirty from the novel Helena Chronicles written by Scott Parks, despite the fact that the book had been with beta readers for the past couple of months and the author had only recently reached out to an editor.  It was plenty of time to get cleaned up but she liked the reminder of the adventure she had been on.

“Oh?” Freida took another look at the two beverages but rested her hands on her lap without further comment.

The amber lit shop sloshed with humans balancing things in their hands and tinkled with dishes on lacquered tabletops and metal cutlery on china.

Miko followed Freida’s eyes then glanced sheepishly at her two drinks, “I can’t help it, they’re so delicious.  The drinks here are better than the choices I had in my novel. The food in my hive was packed with nutrients and energy but it lacked variety.  Grimmson and his gang introduced me to some new fruits, but they weren’t very filling.  I was lucky to get orange juice on Helena.”

Freida pointed her chair in the direction of the juice bar and scooted to the edge of her seat as though she were going to stand but the mind reading tender was already placing a perspiring cup in her hand. She reached for some Venuside bills, each with a different female figure. The bill on top featured Annora, lying on her side in her classical pose, torso raised in the air.  Her tunic and pleated ruffled by the wind, she had just loosed an arrow from her intricately carved short bow.  A colorful duck is flying in the background, a moment before her arrow strikes.  Underneath was written “May Annora Guide your arrow.”  When she looked up to pass them to the man, he had evanescenced with the rustle of a page turning.

To Miko she said, “I hate when they do that.” She sipped the blend and smiled. “My friend Orla would like this. Do you see any of your other characters here?”

Miko donned her helmet to check where the blender yielder had stood, “I’ve never lost anyone yet.”  She paused, “My crew is still two blocks over.  Ox, one of the main characters plays a mute in the story.  He’s been enjoying his time here, he goes to karaoke bar almost every day and stretches his vocal cords.  He’s got a decent voice, I have no idea why the author didn’t give him a single line of dialogue the entire book.”

She took her helmet off with a shrug, set it next to her and picked up her drink and sucked through the straw.  “Besides, the boys aren’t suited to tea shops.  We stopped at a nice restaurant a couple of weeks ago.  I wanted to go somewhere new and I thought some culture might do them some good.  So, we sit down and the waitress comes over, see’s Grimmson’s side arm in his holster, gives it a glance and clears her throat.  Of course, he completely missed the sign out front saying to leave firearms outside and instead thinks he’s forgetting his manners.  He pulls his gun out of the holster, and places it next to the dessert fork and says “See I know what I’m doing!  Salad fork, dinner fork, dessert fork, and revolver.  Just like in Oceanfront.”

“He didn’t!” Freida covered her gasp with her hands.

“He did!”  Miko laughed, “Then he sat back with this smug grin on his face like he did the right thing.  What about you?  Where are the other characters from your book?  Where is this Orla at?”

“She’s not here. None of us have seen her, not even my brother, and he got here before the rest of us.” Freida nudged the cup aside and rested her elbow while twirling a dark lock. “Ward guesses the next place we go will be permanent and we’ll all be there. He has a whole flow chart, I won’t even try to explain. Basically, his hypothesis is that this place doesn’t want us to resist moving on, so it doesn’t quite give us everything.”

Miko thought. “You know, I did wonder why none of the shops do dirigible repairs.”

“Exactly. Whritmorh is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. It has thoughtful womanly touches and sturdy manly implementation.” She gave a shrug and flicked her hair behind her shoulder, “I’m not trying to be all main-charactery, but all of the bed covers stay in place. I’m tired of sleeping on top of the comforter.” She took another sip. “I won’t be one of the ones who lingers forever.”

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Miko replied.  “I’ve been sleeping under my bed, it reminds me of my hive.”

Freida laughed. “Well, you sound pretty content. I believe you’ll be okay if your author takes as long as mine to publish.”

Miko chuffed, “I’ve already been here a long time.  I’ve seen a lot of other characters come and go.  I was in my author’s first novel but instead of publishing us he decided to do a series of short stories and to start a couple of other novels like he was Don Quixote tilting at windmills.  Different genres, different styles, the works.  It’s like he has a writer’s form of ADD.  He’s a master of chapter ones.”

She adjusted herself in her seat and took another sip, “I’m not too worried though, he did come back and do some serious editing to clean the story up and he has promised us a second novel, maybe even a third one as well.  Of course, he’s currently working on two other series and a collab with another author so I don’t know when the other books are coming.”

“I hope the best for you and your crew,” Freida squeezed up her shoulders, then relaxed them when tables cleared at the same time for the queue of waiting shop goers. She gestured a flat hand, “Things could always be worse. No one I’ve met here was from an unfinished story. I’ll bet their version of Whritmorh is not as classy at all, if they even get one.”

MIko shrugged, “There has to be something else, characters in a series have to go somewhere, right?”

A waitress came by and flipped down the bookmark-shaped flag Freida had repositioned. Her name tag said “Celess”. Freida squinted. “You’re all glowy. Do we share an author?”

“Could be, or it could be that I’m a fairy godmother.” Celess flicked through the screen of her tablet without looking up, “Are you ready to order or what?”

Miko asked, “Is that a joke? I’ve lost touch with my sense of humor after Helena.”

“Two parfaits, one to go.” Freida cleared her mouth, then added, “If you have time in between looking at single mens’ profiles.”

Celess left, muttering about necessary research.

“You recommend the parfaits?” Miko asked after inspecting the waitress signal.

Freida pulled in her chair to let someone pass behind her, then scooted back to make room to don her shawl. “No idea. I never eat the same thing twice. My book father taught me to trust my gut though, and the description included honey drizzle so I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“I may have to try one of those parfait thingy’s the next time I visit this shop,” Miko said thoughtfully.  “I’ve learned to enjoy my time here, it’s more peaceful than Helena.  I miss the action sometimes but I can sleep a lot easier at night knowing I’m not being hunted.”

After a pause, Miko continued, “This is a nice place, hopefully we’ll run into each other again, either here or wherever it is characters go after they’re published.”  Her helmet beeped, she stole a quick peek.  “The boys are done with karaoke and are heading to the range for some target practice for the sequel.  I’m going to meet them there, you should join us, if not today then maybe soon.  I think I still have some time here. ”

“Don’t stay here too long, you might meet the fan fiction version of yourself.” Freida stood, then clutched the bagged parfait. “Ward never speculated about what we could bring to the next place, men tend to forget such details.” With a wave and a sound like a hardcover book closing, she was gone.

Miko glanced at the abandoned parfait. Freida had somehow left a drawing on a napkin with a girl in Amish-looking clothes handing a waspish warrior a cup of layered dessert while Miko was absorbed in her smoothie. Also, a fan of Venuside bills lying on the table led Miko to briefly wonder if the fictional characters portrayed on fictional money had their own version of Whritmorh after their scene was over.  She shrugged, sipped down the last of her first drink, then picked up her to-go snack and slipped back out into the busy street.