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House of Mystic Mirrors: Veiled Truthsby: Maggie Finson
Ronald Maddox glared in open dislike as the ladies passed in front of him on the street. Members of a Muslim community that had just arrived in Atcheson, the trio were dressed in the traditional robes and veils their culture and its beliefs demanded. He turned to tell his buddy George Miller what he thought of foreigners coming to the good ol USA and refusing to accept its customs and modes of dress. Only George wasnt there, and since he had come up missing the other day, would likely not be there again, or at least for some time.
"George, of all the times to go get yourself drunk and disorderly in some podunk town, you sure picked a good one this time, with elections and all coming around. Probably sleeping off a real bender somewhere while I stomp the streets working to get folks to vote for Robertson . Some partner you turned out to be, pal," Ron grumbled, then glanced back up to see the three Muslim women headed right for him. Or rather to the store he had just left.
With a sigh frustration, he stepped aside to let the women past him, old reflexes setting in even though he wished they hadnt. As they passed he spoke just loudly enough for them to hear, "Why dont you ladies try and look like you at least belong in this country?"
Two pairs of brown eyes and one of a startling blue stared back at him, wide eyed with worry and embarrassment. He glared back for another moment, then sighed turned away. Eugene Roberts campaign wasnt paying him to stand on the sidewalk and hassle women, even if they were foreigners who dressed strangely.
As he walked away it dawned on him that the blue eyed one, though he could only see her eyes and brows, had seemed strangely familiar though Ron was very sure he hadnt ever seen her before. Another few steps and he had the reason. George Miller had eyes that color, a clear ice blue, though they were neither as large or pretty as the veiled womans had been. Georges had been small, and mostly mean looking, though he had been a valued friend and drinking buddy Ron had known he could be a bad one at times.
"Oh well," shrugging off the coincidence he continued down the street, stopping off and on to staple a garishly colored poster for his candidate to wooden poles until his diminishing stock was gone. "George would have made trouble for those gals for sure if hed been here, so maybe it wasnt such a bad thing that hes gone right now."
Ron and George had fallen together because of similar beliefs; both of them were tired of foreigners coming into the country taking jobs and businesses away from Americans. George advocated a more Draconian approach to the perceived problem than Ron felt was really necessary, but he had agreed in principal. Crowding all those immigrants into camps then shipping them back to their own countries without so much as a "Sorry, no room here." was a solution Ron found imaginatively appealing but the actual contemplation of the act smacked of Fascism of the worst kind to him.
Yet he followed along when George had joined the radical political party headed up by Robertson, and had attended meetings that were more rallies than anything else. One of Robertsons platforms was nationalization of all immigrant assets in the country and forced deportation back to their countries of origin. Recalling other incidents in history where such things had actually happened, Ron had been reticent in the meetings and reluctant to get into the party more deeply. But he had again followed George and found himself as a "volunteer" campaign worker spreading Robertsons creed through Atcheson and the surrounding towns.
What eventually caused him to cave in completely and agree to pass out and post campaign materials was that Robertsons party would give each "volunteer" a stipend to do the work. Chronically unemployed, George and Ron had agreed to accept the stipend, signing papers attesting to their loyalty to The Cause just to get the fifty dollars a day that was offered.
Ron had soon found that the "volunteers" did more than simply hand out brochures and hang posters. They also served as strong arms for the party, policing meetings, and occasionally roughing up some uppity foreigner foolish enough to stand up to them. Ron hadnt really minded that so much. beating a few immigrants up and trashing their businesses had relieved a lot of the frustrations he had been fighting recently. He found it very easy to blame the foreign immigrants for his loss of a job and inability to get another. Even though the true reason was right in front of him every time he held a bottle of beer or a drink of hard liquor, though he refused to acknowledge that.
"Hello, Ron," a rich feminine voice interrupted his reveries, "Are you behaving yourself these days?
"Hi, Sergeant Bergstrom," he answered, turning to look at the pretty young police officer who had arrested him after a brawl in an immigrant owned business. He at least felt a twinge of embarrassment at her question, and a bit of shame for his acts fought to surface in his mind. "Yeah, Im walking the old straight and narrow lately."
Jackie Bergstrom, a newly promoted sergeant in the Atcheson Police regarded Ron thoughtfully and with more than a little regret while thinking. Such a waste, him getting mixed up with that crowd of Neo Nazis. If hed only get some help for that drinking problem hed be a fine man. Now hes just a stooge, and not a very good one at that.
"Thats good to hear," Jackie smiled at him a little sadly. "You really ought to try and get yourself out of that group and stop being the perennial follower. Youre going to regret being tied up with that bunch one of these days, and basically, youre a good man, Ron. Think about it, okay?"
"Sure, Sergeant Bergstrom," he nodded with a twinge of nervousness. Were the police aware of the carefully planned strike on some immigrant homes on Halloween night? He hoped not, but wasnt so sure while shrugging and offering her a weak smile. "I will. Promise."
"You do that, Ron," Bergstrom replied with a brisk nod of her own. "Next time you get hauled in for disorderly conduct, drunk in public, or assault, it could mean some real jail time. Take care now, and do think about what Ive said, please?"
Jackie sauntered away from Ron, brow creased in concern. She knew those thugs the man was tied to had something planned, Rons reactions to her presence had confirmed her suspicions, but the where and when were still something she had no inkling of. Only that it would be some kind of violence against some poor immigrant and/or their families and the real leaders of that would be safely at home while it happened. Just poor stooges like Ron and his missing friend George Miller would pay for the acts. Getting into her patrol car, she continued thinking and decided to keep an eye on Ron over the next few days. With that, she started the engine and pulled away from the curb to continue her supervisory patrol of the downtown area.
Ron fought the urge to sigh in visible relief once the pretty, but stern police officer had left him. Instead, he headed off more or less aimlessly, thinking that he might be able to post some signs on several vacant lots in the area and finish this part of his job early. He sure could use a couple of cold ones, he thought.
The lot at Sixth and Diamond was the last one on his short list. Parking his battered Ford pickup to the curb, he looked at the once empty lot with a scowl, thinking that his remaining four signs would have to go somewhere else.
Mainly because the lot was occupied. By a large, bright green circus tent with a bright yellow flag waving cheerfully from atop a pole set exactly in its center. There were already signs posted to either side of the tent, but they werent political. Ron read the one closest to him to see what all the activity was about in a lot that had been empty less than two hours ago.
BE AMAZED -- BE AMUSED; SEE WHAT LIES WITHOUT -- AND -- WITHIN.
DONT BE LEFT OUT! ONLY HERE UNTIL HALLOWEEN!
THE HOUSE OF MYSTIC MIRRORS
"A freakin fun house," he grumbled, trying to decide where to set up the last of his signs now that this lot was out and coming up with a blank. At least for one close enough not to be a hassle getting to. Staring at the tent, he felt a mild urge to get a closer view, and automatically searched the pockets of his dirty jeans to come up with a dollar. "Gonna cut into my drinkin a little, but what the heck, I could use the break for a while."
There was a lectern-like stand in front of the only door leading into the place, but no one was there. Peering around Ron thought he saw some movement inside, but had just about changed his mind about looking through the tent when a young, shaven headed man wearing a black goatee and carefully trimmed moustache cheerfully emerged from inside.
"Hello, Ron, welcome to The Hall of Mystic Mirrors," the young man, evidently a skinhead from all the tattoos adorning his bare arms and chest underneath the green stripped vest. Baggy military surplus pants of olive green and a pair of boots from the same store the pants had come from completed the youths outfit as he smiled with even white teeth. "Taking a break from The Good Fight are you?
Well, Ron, youve come to the right place," with a smile and half mocking bow he introduced himself, "Im Barker, owner and operator. Go on in, Ronnie, boy, if you have the price of admission. I do have to make a living, you know."
That last was delivered in a mildly apologetic tone and followed with a shrug of bare tanned shoulders as Ron handed over the dollar without once thinking abut how the fellow knew his name. "Thanks for the invite, Barker. No sweat about the buck, everyone has to make a living these days."
"Right you are, buddy," Barker grinned back as the dollar vanished into one of the capacious pockets of his pants. "Go right on in and have the time of your life. I absolutely guarantee that youll be astounded with what can happen in there."
"Thanks Mr. Barker," Ron grinned back as he walked up the wooden steps to reach the entrance.
"Just Barker, Ronnie boy," the skinhead answered to his back. "Its my name and vocation. Now you just go on in there and have yourself an interesting experience."
Ron did exactly that, still wondering if he could get out of the nights activities without getting himself hurt. Sergeant Bergstrom had been pretty sure than one more bust would be his last for quite a while. He almost stumbled from the change in light inside. Heavy canvas kept most of the light from outside away from the interior and the only real illumination was from a string of Christmas lights hanging on wires high above. The whole thing was walled off by wooden room dividers standing around eight feet high and open to the distant ceiling. An elaborately lettered sign next to another door invited, ENTER HERE.
After one last look around the featureless walls of the antechamber, Ron went through the doorway. After going no more than five feet or so, a sudden whoosh and thump startled him into whirling around to find that the entrance had disappeared. To be replaced by a wall identical to those of the corridor he had found himself in. A corridor, he soon found, that was lined on both sides with mirrors.
Mirrors that held a light of their own, more than enough for Ron to see his distorted reflections in them. "Ah, these are just simple curved mirrors," he grumbled while glancing at the tall and thin, short and fat, large headed small bodied, and tiny headed images of himself.
"Hey, hold on a sec!" planting his feet he turned to examine the reflection given off by one mirror that had caught his wandering attention. "Wow, how does he do that?"
His reflection was a her. A young looking woman in a simple one piece dress and heeled sandals. Her long blonde hair framed a pretty face, and her shape was a good one. The resemblance was very close and Ron knew that if hed had a sister, she would look a lot like that. Her large, soft green eyes fixed on his and she mimicked every movement he made, but with feminine fluidity and grace.
Unsettled by that, Ron shook his head and moved on. "Must be some kind of really good computer simulation program. Ill have to ask Barker about it once I get out of here."
The unsettling images of himself in different forms continued assaulting his eyes and mind as he progressed through the maze. He saw himself in guises that varied in age from toddler to ancient, in both sexes, and of every race in the world. One image really brought him to a halt to stare in mystified, half revolted wonder.
The young woman had olive skin, jet black hair hanging to her well rounded bottom, and possessed a fine pair of childbearing hips and milk swollen breasts that seemed too large for her slender back to support with any comfort at all. The childbearing capacity of the image was shown by the fact that she was obviously pregnant, with one hand cradling a belly that bulged until it strained the long skirted, green silk maternity dress she was wearing.
Ron found his own hand reaching to feel his own flabby and rotund belly, then gave another start as the image performed the same motion and widened her large, beautiful green eyes in the same shocked expression he knew was on his own face.
"Oh, no. Ive had about enough of this place." shaking his head to clear it of the cobwebs that had seemed to gather since he had entered the maze, he walked briskly forward. "Im really weirded out over the things these mirrors do to a guys reflection. Time to leave before I start really thinking theyre real."
Lounging in a recliner that hadnt been in the entry vestibule when Ron had passed through it, Barker watched the proceedings inside with interest and no small amusement through a globe of crystal that obliginly floted at his eye level. "Oh, theyre real, Boyo, you can trust me on that one. Some are just more real than others in the infinite possibilities open to us here."
Barkers voice changed into the lilting soprano as his body morphed into that of a petite, lovely asian woman with sleeky shining black hair and large eyes still filled with amusement, and a bit of sadness. "Im sure youll be finding that out for yourself soon enough, though, Ronnie boy. But youll remember who you were and what your cronies had planned. Cruel, I know, but necessary just now." Barkers musical laughter held more than a hint of that cruelty as she continued to observe Rons progress.
At the same time, Ron had finally found himself inside a six sided chamber made up of the same mirrored partitions as the maze had been. He jumped when the whoosh! thump! of the door vanishing and becoming another wall sounded just as he reached the center of the room. "Man, does this place have me spooked, or what?"
Grinning at himself and his idiotic fears, Ron began looking for the exit he knew had to be somewhere nearby. His own image was comfortingly reflected back from the mirrored walls as he did. Then without a sound, the walls began moving. Slowly at first, showing him a panorama of six Rons all transfixed by what was happening, then faster until the images all blurred into one. Then continued blurring as that one began to change.
Ron felt strange twinges and pluckings on the inside as the room seemed to grow larger than it had been. With a start of fear, he realized that it wasnt the room changing, but himself. He bacame thinner and shorter, with a waist that narrowed even more than the rest of him, while his hips crackled and expanded in proportion to his new size. Muscular arms lost the bulk of male muscle he had grown used to seing, and using over the years, his legs smoothed, slimmed, and lengthened proprtionally. Feet became almost tiny compared to the size twelve shoes he stepped out of in a futile attempt to get away, and his newly slender ankles became tangled in the pair of dirty jeans pooled around his feet.
His work shirt hung on his now slender upper body like a tent, and reached to just below his knees. A nearly intolerable itching covered his chest, and he watched in fascinated horror as part of his ballooning shirt was filled by rapidly growing breasts tipped with large, dark nipples. Short, ragged looking blonde hair became darker as it grew thicker and longer until it was a glossy mass of jet black ringlets reaching to his reshaped bottom and hips. Body hair, on the other hand made a small blizzard of blonde hairs floating down towards the floor.
Small, slim hands reached in disbellief first to his slender neck and smoth throat, then to a face that was both softer and fuller, until they finally settled for lifting the heavy mass of shining black hair off narrow, delicate shoulders. His skin changed from the pale flesh it usually had to a light olive and became soft, with a satiny feel and sheen.
Ron didnt bother with the melodramatic groping at his crotch. Senses and internal feeling informed him that the arrangement down there was considerably different than he had grown up with and been accustomed to feeling. There was no sensation of things swinging or hanging down there. That was enough for the now terrified female standing within a heap of very large mens clothing.
With a retching sound in her throat, the newly minted young woman felt a heavy pressure building in her belly and looked down to see it swell like a balloon filled with gas. But it wasnt gas filling her up. Ron knew with a lurch in both stomach and heart that it was a baby filling his belly, and that the former he looked exactly like the woman he had been so fascinated/repulse by in the maze. Delicately lovely hands tipped with immaculately kept red nails reached to cover a fuller, softer mouth as she stifled a scream of terror mixed with despair.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god!" she moaned in a velvety contralto filled with the lilt of another language than English as her first one. "This cant be happening. It cant!"
But it was. the ripped t-shirt under the billowing folds of the work shirt, shrank until it left her midriff bare to the rough denim of the shirt. Then became a slicker, softer material that cupped and held both breasts snugly but comfortably. A bra! Her undershirt had changed into a bra.
A lacy satin one, too, as a look down and inside of the shirt collar showed. Jockey shorts writhed as they climbed back up her smooth legs and became matching white satin and lace panties that held her hips and bottom just about as snugly as the bra did her breasts. The rough work shirt softened and shimmered like the silk it had become while becoming an ankle length sleeveless chemise of snowy white that widened just under her breasts to accommodate the swollen tummy. Well worn socks stretched and thinned, becoming gartered nylons as they crept up her shapely legs and roughened work boots changed into a delicate, pretty pair of low heeled white pumps.
The mans jacket still hanging from narrowed shoulders lengthened and closed around her body to become a long sleeved, violet silk outer gown that covered her from throat to feet. A soiled handkerchief cleaned itself and became a large violet silk scarf that covered her new wealth of hair and was pinned tightly just beneath her small, firm chin. Part of that scarf detached itself from the larger section and laid itself across the bridge of her nose to become a veil that covered the lower part of her heart shaped face.
Somehow, a cheap mans watch metamorphosed into a selection of finely made gold jewelry. Hoop earrings in pierced ears, a pendant necklace and a mass of tinkling bracelets at each wrist. The finished and dressed young woman also felt the covering of light makeup, lip stick, and eye shadow that she now wore artfully.
Encumbered a bit by the long skirts and even more hampered by the veil and head scarf, the girl who had been Ron Maddox stared in horrified wonder at what she had become. A flashing yellow light began to strobe from somewhere above and she felt a mild twinge of headache before blacking out.
Roxanna Abdul, second wife to Hassan, twitched her skirts and adjusted her veil uncomfortably. The young mother to be knew she had been an Anglo Saxon male less than an hour earlier, and recalled everything about Ron Maddoxs life with a clarity that was better than it had been when she was a man. She shuddered at recalling what kind of man Ron had been, and was glad that her religion did not allow the drinking of fermented spirits. None of her family would have that problem as all of them were devout Muslims.
Ron struggled to the surface again, fearful and stunned at what had been done to him. He was not only a she, but also a veiled and gowned Arab woman. Who was pregnant to boot! Without thinking of what she was doing the newly christened Roxanna moved through the now visible exit in a controlled swirl of silken skirts that appeared entirely natural and moved to confront Barker.
"Where is Barker?" she questioned the svelte oriental woman in green silk pants, soft high heeled knee boots white blouse and green and white striped vest.
"I am Barker," the petite woman smiled and tossed her wings of midnight hair negligently off slender shoulders. "What can I do for you Roxanna?"
"That cant be," Ron/Roxanna protested with a tinkle of jewelry as she shook her head in negation. "Barker was a .........."
"Man?" the woman smiled as she finished for Roxanna. "You of all people should realize how changeable something like that can be."
Ron/Roxanna closed her large, gorgeous green eyes for a moment to quell the urge to scream in both terror and frustration. "I cant be a woman, Barker. Especially not an Arab woman. I just cant!"
"Oh?" Questioned Barker with a lift of one eyebrow as she looked the violet clad lady standing before her so demurely. "Evidently the mirrors decided you can be. And should be. And will be. So that is what you are, Roxanna, now and for the rest of your life."
"But why?" Roxanna questioned in a near frenzy of fear and disgust. "I even have a husband now, and...and..."
"Yes, dear lady?" Barker prompted, deliberately using the feminine form of address to further jolt the new woman into acceptance.
"Im....Im...puh...puh...pregnant, damn you!" Roxanna finally gave in to the internal pressures that had been building since she had emerged from the change and burst into tears. "Im going to have a baby!"
"Thats pretty well obvious to anyone with eyes, sweetie," Barker purred. "the pregnant part, anyway. As for the husband, someone beautiful as you are, with a figure like you have when not pregnant, couldnt have avoided marriage in your culture. You are the prize of your husbands household, lovely Roxanna, and the jewel in his family circle. He loves you very much, is excited about the coming baby though he wont show that for fear of seeming weak. He hopes you give him a son, which Salome, his first wife hasnt been able to do yet."
"I cant....wont have a baby!" Roxann/Ron sobbed. "It isnt possible. Im a man. A U. S. citizen, not some immigrant female wrapped from head to toe and ready to pop out the bun in her oven. This isnt real!"
"So you define reality for me, Roxanna," Barker lifted one slender shoulder in and elegant shrug and gave her present companion a soft smile. "Can you feel whats happened to you? Can others see who and what you are now? Does this all seem like a dream to you? Are you uncomfortable being dressed that way, or does it feel natural to you?"
After a subdued "Yes, Yes, No, and very natural" in response to those questions, Roxanna was defeated. Her slim shoulders slumped in reluctant belief and her incredible eyes once again began to fill with tears.
"I see," Barker moved in a walk so sinuous that it was more of a glide to embrace and hole the new made woman. "So what is this then? An elaborate trick? Or the real thing? Look at it this way, dear. Now you have a family that loves you, a child of your own on the way, and a sweet sister/wife who adores you and would happily take second place in the hierarchy to you if only you could give her beloved lord and husband a son."
"Why?" Roxanna questioned plaintively. "Why have you done this thing, this terrible thing, to me?"
"I did nothing except invite you to pass through the Hall of Mystic Mirrors, dear lady," Barker sighed, "The mirrors decided, with your help, what would be done to you, if anything.
And there is a reason, whether we know of it or not, Roxanna," Barker went on hurriedly to forestall the vehement denial she watched forming on the other womans lips. "A very good reason for you becoming as you are. Now get along. Ill have more customers coming soon and you should be getting home before it gets dark. There are some elements in town who dont care at all for your people. Unescorted, you could get into trouble."
"Trouble?" Roxanna questioned with the beginnings of a snort that died as she recalled that she was no longer a six foot plus white male who weighed in at just over Two hundred pounds.
"Yes, dear, trouble with a capital T in it," Barker went on. "You should know what kind and maybe even where it will happen with your memories.
Ah, I see more customers approaching," the small oriental woman gave Roxanna a sunny smile. "I hope you enjoyed your trip through the maze, dear. I hope to see you again before I move on. goodbye for now, though, and may your house prosper and have many sons to support it in times to come."
Roxanna turned away in a rustling sibilance of silk on silk mixed with the light tinkle of expensive jewelry and gracefully approached a late model Honda Prelude that had replaced the Ford pickup Ron had arrived in. Adjusting skirts, and seat to accommodate them along with her bulging tummy, she watched in interest as a group of four high school boys approached the tent.
A flash of pity filled her when she thought of what was probably in store for at least some of those boys. As she started the little Prelude one of the boys reached into a back pocket to produce a wallet, then handed Barker a number of bills.
"May Allah show mercy to them," she breathed without conscious thought. Then realized what she had said. Along with the true hope that things would be well with the young men. "Man, has my attitude changed. I know several of those punks and theyre usually trouble. But I still feel inclined to forgive them and hope they come out of that maze ok."
Puzzled by her new feelings, and gradually getting used to the feel of her new form, Roxanne gave a little sigh and a mental shrug before putting the Prelude in gear and driving away from the lot with its incredible mirror maze.
Two different sets of memories churned in her mind as she drove through town to reach her home. Roxanne knew the quick, maneuverable little sports car was an indulgence from her husband, as were the fine natural silks and delicate jewelry she was wearing. It bothered Ron that nothing she was wearing or used actually belonged to her but were her husbands. Even the clothing she wore was not really hers technically, though thinking of handsome, tall Hassan wearing such dainty things caused Roxanne to giggle with scandalized embarrassment.
She reached her (new?) home without incident other than some stares from pedestrians and other drivers, none of which were even close to being hostile. More than a few had even given her cautiously friendly smiles.
Salome greeted her at the front door in a flurry of skirts and welcoming hugs. "Roxanna, I was so worried when you didnt get back from the market at your usual time. What did you do?"
"I drove to the park and walked for a while," Roxanna smiled at her sister/wife and returned the hugs with one of her own. at least as much as her swollen belly would permit. "It is very lovely there at this time of year."
Salome clucked like an ancient mother scolding an errant great grandchild. "It is getting too cold for you to be outside like that for long, Roxanna. You need to be more careful, especially now."
"It isnt that cold, dear," Roxanna smiled as she loosened her veil and let it drop to the side. "Quite pleasant in fact."
Walking to a low couch, she gratefully eased herself down and leaned back in a relaxed manner that she would never think of using if their husband was around the house. "Ahhh, thats better. I tell you, sister, carrying a baby once it is born can be no more difficult than carrying one around inside of yourself."
"Youll change that tune once the little one is here," Salome chuckled, helping Roxanna remove the confining scarf from her head and shaking her own blonde locks in sympathy as the other lightly brushed at her raven curls with delicate finger motions. "Then youll long for the quiet you had during the time you carried him next to your heart, little sister."
"That remains to be seen," the dark haired woman giggled, then reached to support her belly with both hands as something inside twitched. "but this one is active."
The part of her mind that was Ron was appalled at the chatter between the two of them, but even he could feel the genuine warmth that flowed between the two. He also knew that Salome and Roxanna were true siblings, not just sisters through marriage to the same husband. Sun and Moon Hassan half jokingly called them, so different and so alike. Ron was filled with fear over meeting this man who had not only wed his new self at some time in the past, but had been familiar enough with her to have filled her womb with a child.
"Did our Lord and Husband deign to give you any idea of when he might return to us this evening?" Salome questioned with a grin to show she was teasing.
"Yes," the younger sister responded with another sigh as the movements inside her belly subsided. "He will be late tonight, inventory and new stock coming in. I am going back to assist him after we have prepared dinner. He asks that you come as well."
"So much for a nice, quiet and relaxed evening at home," Salome pouted for a moment then brightened. "Well, at least well be together tonight. I have been worried about that."
"Worried?" Ron trapped in a female body and mannerisms from another culture altogether, wondered why that would be, and thought he might know after all. "Why are you worrying. We have been warmly welcomed here, and most are very friendly. Even for infidels."
"Yes, I suppose that is true," the older of the pair nodded, but still seemed troubled. "But this night, Halloween they call it, is a time of trouble for some."
"So I have heard," Roxanna nodded agreement, then grinned. "But for many, especially the children, it is a time of fun."
"I saw one of those horrible men today," Ron winced inwardly as he recalled that meeting, and felt shame for frightening this loving and gentle woman as Salome shuddered and went on. "One of those who hate us for being different, little sister. He even spoke to us, Meshka, Samara, and me.
Demanded we remove our veils and abandon decency right there on the street, he did," the older sister held herself tightly for a moment. We were terrified he would rip our veils off and shame us publicly in this new place. I hoped we had left that kind of thing behind when we came here."
Ron, deep inside a concerned Roxanna, wanted to tell the other that he had no intention of doing such a thing, or had even been aware that such a thing would have disgraced and terribly hurt the young women he had taunted earlier.
"Yet he did not," Roxanna gave her older sister a soft smile. "did he, dear one?"
"No, he...he simply turned away and walked off reeking of alcohol and pork," Salome answered softly, the relief she had felt over that simple act clearly showing on her lovely face."
Pork. Another thing his -- her -- new religion prohibited, Ron thought sourly, then chuckled internally. Aside from a few well done pork chops, he never had been all that fond of pork anyway. Not even ham or bacon.
"We are taught to be tolerant, sister," Roxanne answered thoughtfully, speaking as much to herself and the male mind still stirring within her own as to her older sibling. "Infidels are no more cruel by nature than those of us who acknowledge the God of Mohammad. Nor are they intentionally wicked by their standards. They are only ignorant of our ways, and when told of them, do their best to honor them where we are concerned."
Ron was reeling in shock, at least the part of him still present, which was mostly memory and a little remaining conscious thought in the background of things. Both of these women, even though one was himself, were lovely, tolerant beings who deserved far better than people like Robertson and his cronies wished for them. They were just people, he realized, people trying to get along in a world as hostile to them as it was to an unemployed drunk. Or had been, he thought unhappily. What could I have been without that damned bottle? he wondered wistfully. Maybe folks like sergeant Bergstrom had seen what, and mourned for the loss while hoping to save it from the well of alcohol and mistaken hatreds he had fallen into?
Had he even been worth redemption? Or deserved it? A gentle thought from Roxanna assured him that no one was beyond redemption so long as they wished for it, and at least tried earning it. Which thought left him in another confused wrack of emotions. Memories (implanted by the mirrors? or real? Did it even matter?) of Roxannas happy childhood and Ronnies too welled up in his mind, filling him with both a sense of loss and the thrill of having found something as sweet. Hassan, tall, dark bearded, with laughing eyes and gentle hands, her husband. A man who worked very hard to give his wives and children the best he could find of everything. How was he so different than a born American father seeing to the welfare of his family? He wasnt, Ron decided.
Though the idea of having a husband still caused his -- her-- stomach to churn in protest, the image of the man in her mind, along with the warm feelings it engendered, was beginning to make the thought palatable. Ron, as Roxanne, was even beginning to look forward to embracing her husband, or simply being there to help him as much as she could.
Which brought something else to mind, something terrible that was about to happen. Roxanna arose, reaching for her head scarf and veil. "Where is Maryam, Salome?"
"Samara is watching her," the older woman answered with a puzzled expression. Her little girl wasnt going to be happy when momma didnt go get her soon, but Samara had planned on either being occupied with the work at the market or seducing her husband. "What is wrong?"
"We have to get to the market," Roxanne returned shortly. "Something bad is going to happen there if we dont."
Quickly wrapping her own head scarf around her beautiful hair, the green eyed blonde fixed and adjusted her veil as Roxanne had hers in place. "What is it little sister? What do you know?"
Nothing....something...I have a feeling, thats all," Roxanna, fueled by Rons memories of what was planned for the night by his former cronies, waved her newfound sister outside. "Just believe me, please. We have to get to the market before dark tonight!"
The Honda Prelude, now containing two gowned and veiled women screeched to a crooked halt in front of Abduls Market and Sundries: specializing in Mid-Eastern foods and products. And both ladies struggled against their hampering skirts and outer robes to get out of the little car quickly without embarrassing themselves by showing flesh that was not meant for non-family members to see.
Light bar flashing its red, white, and blue warning, a police patrol cruiser skidded to a stop right behind them. But before Sergeant Bergstrom could reach the two women who awkwardly exited the Honda, they had disappeared into the large store. Jackie sighed with frustration, called in where she was, and settled down to await their return so she could issue the speeding citation she had started filling out.
Roxanna and Salome ran into the store as best they were able to discover trouble had arrived ahead of them. Two hulking men wearing ski masks stood over a prone figure both recognized as their husband while two more held a very frightened couple and several boys at bay beyond the gruesome tableau.
Surprising herself, and Ron, Roxanne made it to the fallen man ahead of Salome, and knelt at his side awkwardly while looking calmly up at the pair of thugs while cradling the stranger/loved ones head in her arms. Scarcely noticing the blood that stained her gowns, she allowed Salome to take her place and slowly moved to a spot between the thugs and her little family.
"What do you want here?" she questioned, still filed with calm, and very surprised at her coolness in a very dangerous situation. "Why have you harmed my husband, a good man who never wishe you ill in his life?
Is it money? I will show you the cash register and safe. Is it something else? Tell, or show me and I will do my poor best to give it to you. Just leave him, and our customers alone. That is all I ask of you."
"Get out of the way, lady," One thug growled and Rons memory identified Sam Waterfield, one of the better ones, he thought, but still dangerous. "I dont want you hurt."
"Hey!" his companion threw in nervously. "Nobody said nothing about women being here. Especially not a pregnant one. I aint goin to do nothin to hurt an expectant mama."
"Then go away, now," Roxanna smoothly answered his worries. "Leave us in peace and we wont say a thing to anyone about this. I swear to you we wont. Just leave us alone and in peace. We have done nothing to you. Why do we deserve such treatment?"
Waterfield blew out a disgusted breath under his ski mask, then growled to his worried companion, "Then get out of here, you gutless wonder.
What have you done?" he turned to Roxanna with an almost plaintive note in his voice. "Youve come to this country, taken over businesses, and jobs that people who belong here need to survive. Youre taking our livelihoods away and you ask what have you done?"
"Now get out of the way, and tell your friend to move away too. We wont hurt either of you, or them," he indicated the customers with a slight jerk of his head. Then stared down at the groaning Hassan. "Its him we want."
"We bring prosperity to places that have not known such a thing in years," Roxanna returned calmly, looking directly into the thugs eyes. To her satisfaction, he flinched under that regard. Ron was silently cheering her on, and hoping fervently that Waterfield would not offer her harm. "How can that be a bad thing? We create more jobs as a side effect of our businesses than your city planners have managed in ten years with their tax money and endowments. We bring you the chance of a better life, and you treat us in this shabby manner? Shame! I am ashamed to have tried to help such ungrateful people.
As for moving away from my husband so you can beat him more while he is helpless," Roxanne squared her small shoulders, making Ron proud that he had become her, and faced the much larger men. "I will not. He is my life. Take his and you take mine, along with our unborn childs. It would be kinder than leaving us bereft of husband and father. I will die before standing aside for you to do such a thing!"
Waterfield stared, then glared at the improbably strong young woman watching him impassively from over her veil. Then glanced down at her obviously pregnant belly. Then closed his eyes and swallowed. He moved to push her aside, an easy thing for him to accomplish physically, but seeing her standing so straight and courageous, filled him with shame. "Maybe youre right, lady, Maybe youre right at that, about everything.
"Come on you guys," he motioned for the others to head for the door. Weve done enough here for tonight. Lets go home."
"Good idea, friend," Jackie Bergstrom holstered her service revolver with a sigh of relief. "Why dont you all go home and think real hard about the economics lesson the lady just gave you."
All four thugs slunk out like the beaten dogs they felt like, and Roxanna nearly collapsed into a heap beside the husband that she had really never met , but loved in spite of that. Strong arms wrapped themselves around her shoulders, lending support and easing her into a sitting position. She turned to thank the man, and found herself looking into the male half of the American couple who had been watching the incident in helpless frustration.
"Thank you," she managed to get out before turning to see that Salome had Hassan conscious and sitting up. Returning her regard to the smallish man who had seemed so strong to her, she smiled with eyes and mouth. I will be fine in a moment. Just let me catch my breath.
"We all arent like those jerks, Lady," he softly assured her with emphasis on the title. It showed a great deal of respect and Ron found himself glad for the first time that Roxanna went veiled because she was blushing furiously under the strip of violet silk. "Believe that, please."
"I do," Roxanna replied, adjusting her veil to further hide traces of her extra coloring. "and truly hope to see you and your wife visiting our store again, sir."
"Mark," he corrected her with a grin. "My names Mark Hennessey and my wife over there is Rhonda."
The young woman, somewhat plain, but beautiful in her love for the young man she had married smiled and waved while Mark went on. "Are you sure youre all right?"
"Very," she answered with a small laugh, then offered her small hand in a gesture Ron found familiar, and Roxanne considered strange but useful. "my name, by the way is Roxanna Abdul and I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Mark Hennessey, as well as that of your wife."
Ron, startled, realized that he had used the female and Arabic name to identify himself for the first time since he had been transformed. And decided that if felt good. Right. He had already given up the idea of becoming a man again, and knew that as a woman, she could do far worse than Hassan and Salome for family.
"Help me to stand, please?" she questioned Mark, and accepted his hand to help in gaining her small feet. Then carefully rearranged her gown and outer robe before favoring him with a smile he couldnt see, but nevertheless felt. "Thank you very much. I have become so awkward lately it is embarrassing."
"Not at all, awkward, I mean," the man grinned, then let go of her hand. "You are a very brave lady, Roxanna Abdul. One I would be more than proud to call a friend. If your husband permits?"
"Oh, I think he will have no real problem with that," Roxanna giggled, then added. "Just so long as your pretty wife accompanies you when we visit?"
"Done!" Mark nodded, smiling happily as his wife did. "How do you like the ides of being a chaperone, honey?"
"Ive done it before, sweetheart," Rhonda answered in amusement with a voice that was like silken strings drawn over a finely wrought silver wire. "At school. Chaperoning you will be simple compared to trying to keep a grip on a bunch of randy teenagers."
Bowing to them both, Roxanna turned to give the police officer any information she could, aside from the mens names. Roxanna Abdul kept her word. Even when given to thugs and infidels. Though she was going to need to change her internal definition of infidel, she knew. People were people, no matter what their sex, race, or religion, she had found. Ron agreed enthusiastically.
"Ah, Roxanna, how good of you to visit me again," Barker, now a middle aged man with a cheery demeanor and broad, friendly smile, greeted his visitor.
"I had to," Roxanna answered, "To tell you that now I understand why the mirrors let me keep my old memories. It was necessary, as this was to fully influence the events that occurred tonight."
"I know," Barker smiled again, "You did very well, dear Lady. You are to be commended for showing such courage and understanding in a most trying situation.
But I should tell you," he went on almost regretfully. "Unlike many of the old tales and fairy stories, what the Mirrors do will not be undone. Ever. I am sorry, Lady."
"That is just as well," Roxanna cradled her swollen belly and smiled as she felt the life within move quietly. "I am content as I am, though its going to take some getting used to, let me tell you. And I do believe that it is time for members of our little community to embrace at least some of the local ways. Like the way we dress for one.
"But that will take time, and I seem to have a lot of that ahead of me now, thanks to you and your mirrors." she dreamily finished that line of thought, then laughed in surprised understanding. "Strange , isnt it, Barker? That I had to put on a veil to have the veils removed from my eyes?"
With that, she loosened hers, pulled it aside long enough to place a soft kiss on Barkers cheek, then replaced the tenuous strip of cloth that had freed both her and Ron while walking away. "Good night, Barker. I dont think well see each other again."
"Maybe, maybe not," he replied softly. "I like to keep track of my more spectacular successes, and you show promise of being one of those.
"Ah , well," he sighed while turning off the lights around the tent. "Time to close up for the night, I think. No on else will be here until morning."
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