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Eric Banyon, better known as Bedlam's Bard, has just discovered that he has a younger brother named Magnus whom his parents have kept secret from him. Just as Eric did years ago, 17-year-old Magnus has run away from home to escape his disfunctional family. Determined to find him, Eric finds himself caught in a desperate race against time. Young homeless children in New York have created a bizarre mythology about a demon called Bloody Mary who preys on young children-and somehow Bloody Mary has taken on an ...
Eric Banyon, better known as Bedlam's Bard, has just discovered that he has a younger brother named Magnus whom his parents have kept secret from him. Just as Eric did years ago, 17-year-old Magnus has run away from home to escape his disfunctional family. Determined to find him, Eric finds himself caught in a desperate race against time. Young homeless children in New York have created a bizarre mythology about a demon called Bloody Mary who preys on young children-and somehow Bloody Mary has taken on an independent life and now stalks the streets of the city. Eric's friends, the Guardians seem powerless to stop her. Anyone who sees her is marked for death. And Magnus has seen her. . . .
The children huddled in the meager protection of the doorway on the Lower East Side across from the homeless shelter. They passed around hoarded cigarettes and drank from bottles of Coca Cola swaddled in brown paper bags in imitation of their elders. None of them was older than eight or ten, but their faces were already hard and set, the legacy of a life spent on the street.
Monday was just another day if you didn't have anywhere else to be. School was something to be avoided. Too many awkward questions, too many meddling adults wanting you to get with the program-or into a program. Only a few of them were enrolled anyway. Enrollment required a home address, or a fixed address, and none of them had homes to go to. Not really. In the wake of the unfathomable disaster that had struck New York a year ago, the city's social services had been stressed even further than before. People who had been marginally able to cope before the disaster were no longer able to manage, and those who had fallen through the cracks were being buried beneath the avalanche of lives falling through what were no longer mere cracks, but canyons in the system. New York these days, as many social commentators had said, was one large enclave of post traumatic stress disorder, and, as always, it was the children who were the invisible and largely-unnoticed victims.
For these kids as for many others, home was an single room occupancy or a bed in a shelter, if they still had a family. If not, it was whatever refuge they could find out of the chill November wind. And every one of them already knew that refuge came at a price.
Most of them were dressed in hand-me-downs and cast-offs, worn, dirty, nothing quite the right size, nothing quite warm enough for the cold November day. When clothes were so hard to come by, it was better to get something you could keep as long as possible, and not have to give up because it had gotten too small-though one boy in the group was wearing a new well-fitting leather jacket over a hoodie. The jacket was shiny and cheap, the thin leather already starting to craze and crack, but even so, it marked him out as someone with more resources than his peers. All of them kept a wary eye out for adults, ready to run if they were challenged, but the few pedestrians paid no particular attention to the cluster of young street kids.
* * *
"Where you been, Elio?" a very small child piped up-impossible to tell if it was a girl or a boy.
"Yeah-you got girlfriend?" Definitely a boy, this one, elbowing the kid in the jacket with a sly look.
Another about the same age, with an even more knowing look. "Nah-Elio's got a boyfriend!"
"He give you that mad jacket?" asked a third, with great interest, perhaps wondering if it was worth going that way himself.
"Cut it out, guys!" Elio hunched his shoulders, pulling his hood up over his head and leaning against the side of the building. He stared down at the ground.
"I seen her."
"Seen her? Seen who?" the little kid asked, not getting the hint.
"I seen her." Elio's dark face was pinched and pale, and so terrified that it was utterly blank. "La Llorona."
There was a moment of confused silence, as if his listeners wanted to ridicule him, but didn't quite dare. Finally another boy-darker-skinned than Elio-stepped forward.
"Yo, dog, you can't be just saying her name out like that."
"I seen her," Elio repeated, looking up into the other boy's face, sharply, his eyes dull and hopeless. "She's real."
"Then you gotta say," the other boy said. "That's the rule."
Elio took a deep breath. His face twisted, as if he wanted to cry, but when he spoke, his voice was flat.
"I was over at my uncle Esai's place. He had his crew there, and there was like a dozen pizzas, and everything, and he said I could eat as much as I wanted, and he let me watch 'toons on his big-ass television, and gave me a beer and everything."
Murmurs of derision and veiled disbelief greeted this part of the narrative, but nobody challenged it openly. They wanted to hear the rest, the part about La Llorona.
"And he had to go out on, you know, his business, but he said I could stay, on account of Mama was working late, and everybody was still being nice to me 'cause Julio got whacked last month. So I fell asleep on the couch, but in the middle of the night I woke up, on account of beer makes you pee, and I went into the bathroom, and ... there she was, in the mirror."
Elio's voice dropped to a whisper and his listeners drew in closer.
* * *
None of them noticed the older boy around the corner of the building. He'd been loitering, waiting for them to leave before going into the homeless shelter across the street, not wanting to be noticed-the oldest of them might be a good six or seven years younger than he was, but there were at least eight of them, and he knew several of them carried knives. Not good odds if they decided to mug him, and with that many of them, they could swarm him and cut anything off him that they wanted.
And besides, the story interested him....
Elio's voice, thin and shaky, just carried to where he was skulking. "She was all blue, and wearing this floaty stuff, like curtains, and it was all blowing around her, like in the movies when there's a ghost. And she was crying, only it was all black, like blood, and she didn't have any eyes."
The other children backed away now, as if suddenly afraid that the boy in the leather jacket had become dangerous to know. There was a moment of frozen silence, and then they all started talking at once, their voices low and urgent, creating a babble out of which a few shrill phrases emerged.
"Why'd you look?"
"Why'd you tell us?"
"You shouldn't have looked in the mirror."
"If you didn't see her, you'd be okay."
Then the oldest boy, demanding. "If you seen her, how come you still alive, Elio? Everybody know if you see the Crying Woman, you going to die."
No one laughed.
"I guess it too soon," Elio said, shaking his head, in a voice utterly without hope. "I guess I am going to die, just like Julio. She just waitin'."
"Maybe ... maybe she didn't see you, dog."
The oldest boy smacked the other across the back of the head, and now his voice shook with fear. "You dumb or somethin'? Of course she see him! She in the mirror, isn't she? And once Bloody Mary see your face, you gonna die, you know that. She gonna find E. wherever he go, track him down an' drag him down to hell. She a demon. She got powers. Once she seen you, ain't no escape."
* * *
From his hiding place around the corner of the building, Magnus watched as the boy Elio tried to put a brave face on things, and failed. He hugged himself tightly, his heart beating in fear, watching the other boy. Bloody Mary-La Llorona-the Crying Woman. Now he had a name for the woman he'd seen.
It should have been easy to make fun of what he'd overheard. Just little kids telling each other ghost stories. Just urban legends, after all. Schoolyard tales.
But it wasn't quite so funny when you'd seen her yourself.
And if what the rest of what they said was true ...
Elio ran off down the street, hitting out angrily at his friends. They followed at a little distance, still subdued, and watching him the way that cats watched one of their number that was dying-wary, and frightened, and a little in awe. It was easy to see what was uppermost in their minds. It wasn't me. Thank God, it wasn't me.
Magnus moved cautiously away from the building in the opposite direction, his intention to visit the shelter forgotten.
Bloody Mary. He winced. It was like that story he remembered from when he was a little kid, that if you went into the school bathroom alone on a Friday and stood with your back to the mirror and chanted "Bloody Mary" three times and turned around really quick, you'd see a horrible demon face in the mirror.
And ... something ... would happen. He forgot what it was supposed to have been. Something terrible. Maybe there was a movie about it, too.
Only this was real, because he'd seen her, with his own two eyes.
Last week he'd gone out walking alone. Ace hated it when he did that, but he didn't care. He didn't have any money, and who was going to bother him except to mug him? And except for the raggedy kids that didn't have enough clothes to keep warm, nobody wanted what he had.
She always worried that he was going to get dragged into a big black car for a "date," but with his chestnut hair, green eyes, and choirboy looks, Magnus had learned how to deal with that sort of thing a long time ago. Besides, people looking for rentboys cruised under the West Side Highway or down on the Strip, not up in the Bowery, so he figured his virtue was pretty safe. And it wasn't like Ace needed help to watch Jaycie. Jaycie slept most of the time, anyway.
It'd been late, maybe two or three in the morning. He'd done gone out just to do it, just because he could, because there was nobody around these days telling him to do this, do that, be good, behave. Besides, he'd wanted to be alone. It was pretty noisy back at The Place at night. Most of the kids were up and out, but if they were there, they wanted to party, whether or not they had anything to party with.
And he'd seen her-the woman Elio had talked about.
He'd been all alone on the street-or he'd thought he'd been.
Then all of a sudden she stepped out from between two parked cars, right in front of him.
Tall. Fashion-model tall. And somehow he could see her clearly, even though it was dark and there weren't any lights on the side street. She hadn't been glowing or anything; it was just that somehow she was bright enough to see even in the dark. Pale blue draperies flowing around her, rising and settling, constantly in motion, even though there hadn't been much wind. Black tears flowing down her face out of two black holes where eyes should have been, and he'd been so freaked, because she'd just appeared, out of nowhere, that he'd barely had time to start getting really frightened when she vanished again.
He hadn't stayed to look around. He might have been in New York for only about three weeks, but he wasn't an idiot. He'd beat feet back to The Place, and by the time he'd gotten there, the snapshot image of what he'd seen-kind of like the Blue Fairy on crack-had fully developed in his head: tall, willowy, eyeless, weeping tears of black blood.
He didn't know where she'd come from, or where she'd gone, and he didn't care, just as long as he never saw her again.
And to tell the truth, even now he didn't want to admit, even to himself, how scary she was. In seventeen years of disappointing experiences, Magnus had learned that the best way to handle things he didn't like was silence. If you didn't talk about things you didn't like, you could pretend they hadn't happened, and sooner or later, it was almost like they never had. So he hadn't said anything to anyone about what he'd seen, not even Ace. And he hadn't gone out alone again late at night, either.
But now these kids said one of them had seen her too, and they'd all seemed to know about her.
Right. He had to think about this, right now, real hard, before he scared himself into holing up in the Place and never coming out. Did that really mean what he'd seen had been no-shit real? Or had the whole thing been a goof staged for his benefit?
Magnus considered the idea carefully. No. They hadn't known he was there, so they hadn't been putting it on for his benefit-and how could they possibly have known what he'd seen? Besides, they'd been little kids, half his age-and kids that age weren't that good at acting-not that kind of acting, anyway. The oldest of them couldn't have been more than ten. And he didn't even know them. Okay. They hadn't seen him and even if they'd seen him, they didn't know him. Why should they bother to ring his chimes?
That only left the other explanation. The worse one.
She was something real.
And-if the rest of what those runt losers said was true, too-she was going to find him and kill him, because he'd seen her and she'd seen him.
Magnus shivered, heading for home-or what passed for home these days. Even at its worst, it was still better than the one he'd left.
Even if it was going to kill him.
At least when it did, it would kill him on his own terms.
* * *
The Jacob Riis Shelter in Lower Manhattan occupied what had been-a century before-an upper-middle-class home in what had then been a well-to-do residential district.
Times had changed.
Now, suitably renovated-though too long ago, on the slenderest of shoestrings-the aging brownstone did the best it could with what it had to provide: beds, hot meals, and counseling to an ever-shifting population of the city's poor and homeless. These days, that was a precarious interlocking web of grant money, city stipends, and private donations, less every year, though sometimes there was still a little money for "extras"-the things that shelter director Serafina Macunado knew weren't extras, but necessities, if they were to bring any light and hope into the lives of their youngest clients. Color, creative play, laughter, music.
* * *
Hosea Songmaker shrugged Jeanette's strap higher on his shoulder and smiled down at the circle of children who surrounded him. Some of them-those who had been here longest-smiled shyly back. The others regarded him with expressions ranging from shocked blankness to outright suspicion.
For the last six months, Hosea had been spending four days a week here, providing "music therapy" to the shelter's children, a simple enough task for an Apprentice Bard, and one that required no more credential than his New York City busker's license and a willingness to help. The director insisted on paying him - he made sure that it was a pittance, the minimum he could get away with and still be taken seriously. He enjoyed working with the children, and-since the previous autumn-had found his skills especially needed.
Paul and Toni were handling most of his training as a Guardian, and Hosea had been frankly surprised to find out how little there was: becoming a Guardian seemed to be pretty much a matter of "sink or swim."
Excerpted from Mad Maudlin by Mercedes Lackey Rosemary Edghill Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 27, 2004
I loved this book, & the others in the series. After the end of the book (pub in July 2003), there is mention of the next book in the series: MUSIC TO MY SORROW. In the 17 months since then, I have seen no other mention of the next book in the series, by any title. Comment/Query to publisher: Mr. Baen - IS there a next book in the series, when will it be published, and under what title?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Eric Banyon has graduated from Juilliard not an easy task for the average student, but for Eric attaining the diploma was a bit more difficult than average due to a learning disability. Needing to use his magical Bard abilities to save someone, usually himself, occasionally disrupted his study time. Eric decides to visit his parents in Boston.<P> Meanwhile Elf Prince Jachiel ap Gabrevys, better known in a Manhattan runaway shelter circles as Jaycie, has vanished from Underhill. His Protector is unable to locate him in iron clad New York City because the metal disrupts eleven powers. Eric¿s apprentice Hosea learns that the runaways worship a creature called Bloody Mary, but apparently she is no myth. Mary stalks Eric. Soon Eric, joined by a sibling he did not know he had, his apprentice, and Jaycie among others, become involved in a street confrontation with Bloody Mary.<P> The latest Eric the Bard escapade is a delightful blending of Manhattan street living inside a wonderful fantasy. The story line is fast-paced, often humorous, and action-packed. Eric remains a solid prime character and the support cast especially Bloody Mary adds to the depth of the plot. Though repetitive glib references to TV land becomes tedious, fans of the series, the authors, or wild urban fantasies will appreciate the marvelous MAD MAUDLIN.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 19, 2009
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Posted October 25, 2008
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