Mixed Messages

by Kristen


There was no such thing as a normal day in the life of Riyad Shihar. He had stopped expecting there to be. Today, his self-proclaimed day off, he had decided to run a few errands that would take him an hours tram ride from headquarters into Solace’s Little Arcadia. While he had managed to spend the first half of the ride in welcome semi-silence with his own thoughts, the second half was proving to be totally baffling. If he wasn’t handling dangerously cursed antiques, or meeting supernatural entities, he found himself just bizarrely confused by such normal things as his own phone.

It had started out innocently enough with a message from Du’shan who, despite the fact that it was past noon, was probably only just waking up from the previous night’s drinking.

Why are my keys in the refrigerator?

Riyad couldn’t suppress a smile and responded, You said “This is really going to confuse me tomorrow.” Apparently drunk-you plays pranks on hungover-you.

There was a brief pause, during which Riyad looked out the window, but the next message came not from Du’shan but from Ath’ran’s phone.

im eating my dinosaur chicken nuggets in the order they would die in the food chain

Riyad stared for a moment, almost missing Du’shan’s reply of, This explains so much of my life.

Deciding that that required no response—Du’shan could guess all the things he might have said without him needing to say them—he chose to reply to the second message. It obviously wasn’t Ath’ran, but the trick became guessing who it was in that case.

Riyad? he hazarded, and was rewarded with the response: hi uncle me

Did you take your dad’s phone?

im not going to say yes or no but you should know that my answer rhymes with mess

Riyad smirked and slid his phone back into his pocket. Since discovering the text function, little Riyad had developed an interest in sending messages to “Uncle Me”; Riyad had a feeling that that the boy had actually changed his listing in the phone to that.

As he was alighting from the tram at the Little Arcadia hub station, he received another message and as he reached for his phone to check it, he almost ran into a tiny white-haired woman who was carrying a stack of boxes almost as tall as she was. Apologizing in Arcadian, Riyad steadied here and helped her to find a seat on the tram, at which point he barely had time to dodge between the doors and escape before being whisked off to the next station.

By then, he had two messages. The first, from Nyr, said, Do you know when you’ll be home? Was thinking of ordering out instead of cooking.

The second was Jin, saying, So this girl I slept with last night? Not doing that again.

Riyad decided to answer Nyr first, both because his message had come first and because he still wasn’t sure that he wanted to know about Jin’s sexual exploits. By 7. It’s fine as long as there’s enough for Ath’ran and his kids, too. They’re coming for supper.

Phone still in hand, Riyad made his way toward the first of the shops he had intended to visit, and tried to decide what, if anything to say to Jin. The Xifengese would pester him until he sent some sort of response, but in the interest of learning as little as possible, Riyad decided to tread carefully.

He stood outside as he replied, out of respect for the shopkeepers. While phones were nothing new to Arcadians, there was very specific etiquette about when it was appropriate to use them, and while those customs were more easily forgiven when trespassed on here in Solace, Riyad had known the woman and her family who owned this store since he was a teenager. He intended to stay in their good graces for as long as he shopped here, or until they stopped giving him the “you have such beautiful hair” discount on spices.

He finally settled on, Did she do something wrong?

It proved to be a more open-ended question than he had expected.

What can I say? Inner beauty is great and all, but it’s a hard picture to jack off to.

Riyad stared at his phone and briefly considered changing his number so that Jin could never message him ever again. It wasn’t that he expected the other man’s mental filters to function any better over the phone than in person, it was just that as it stood there was absolutely no escaping Jin’s off-color comments and non-sequiters. There was a time and a place for that skewed sort of humor and those were not when Riyad had purposely left the building in the hope of ignoring them.

He put his phone away and went into the shop. The layout hadn’t changed since he was seventeen, so he quickly found everything he was looking for. The middle-aged woman who rang him up did the math in her head instead of with the register, scrawling out the purchase in Arcadian shorthand to be entered into the computerized records later.

“You always buy the same things,” she said in Arcadian. What she meant, and what any native speaker of the language would have heard was, You only come once a month and your quantities never vary. You still don’t have a wife or a family.

Riyad smiled. “My needs are simple.” I’m not interested in those things yet.

“If you call ahead, my daughter can pull the items and we can hold them. It would be faster for you.” She put the spices and packages of nuts and dried peppers into a bag. If I know when you’re coming, I will have my daughter make herself up and ring you up. You won’t be able to resister her and you will get married. You will be happy and looked after, and our family name will be raised by marrying into the D’sen clan.

“I’ll keep that in mind, Auntie.”

“I’ll just put this on your tab and bill you?” I won’t forget. My daughter will marry you yet.

He nodded with a smile, collected his items and left the store. His phone had vibrated in his pocket and, stepping out of the way of pedestrian traffic, he checked his messages.

Although he hadn’t responded to Jin’s last message, the Xifengese had left another. It worked out anyway. She said she doesn’t want to sleep with me again since I’m not a generous lover. I ignored her moustache didn’t I? I think that was pretty generous.

He deleted that one right away, and moved on to the next, from Nyr, informing him that I ordered a 3-square-foot pizza. 20 creds, all the toppings you want. WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THIS PIZZA.

Riyad stared, trying to remember the toppings their favorite pizza place offered. He managed to tick off twenty-five and then lost count. The P of A had always had a rule that if someone didn’t like a particular topping, he could remove it, but imagining the monstrosity Nyr had just ordered for supper was frightening him.

He started to walk again, heading for an import store. The fifteenth anniversary of Du’shan’s mother’s death was approaching, and Riyad wanted to pick up calligraphy ink and paper for him. It was customary to send burnt offerings every five years, and although the norm was to send paper money or goods, he had a feeling that Du’shan would be sending her a poem instead. If nothing else, he could at least write it in the traditional style.

He glanced at an incoming message as he walked. From Jin. Again. Besides, she had a tattoo on her FACE. A facial tattoo basically says “I’ve gone as far in society as I’d like to, thanks.”

Riyad raised an eyebrow. He supposed Jin had a point, but he didn’t want to goad him on with a response—though ignoring him obviously wasn’t a deterrent. Besides, he knew Jin had a tattoo. So did he, Du’shan, and Ath’ran. Granted, few people saw his—the clan insignia that all direct inheritors of the bloodline got in adolescence—or Ath’ran’s, but Du’shan was shirtless often enough for the firebird that covered half of his abdomen to be well-known by everyone living at headquarters.

In fact, Nyr was the only one who didn’t have a tattoo. Riyad smirked; he knew what they were doing the next time they were all drunk.

Finally, he sent Jin a reply: This from the guy who regularly gets drunk, thinks he’s invisible, and starts narrating his actions to everyone. Including the waitress.

The response was lightning fast. Hey hey. We’re talking about the ugly chick I slept with, not me.

I AM NOW SETTING MY BEER GLASS DOWN. IT IS EMPTY.

Shut up, jackass.

I WILL SHANK YOU WITH MY INVISIBLE KNIFE IF YOU DON’T REFILL MY BEER.

Just wait.

Riyad laughed to himself as he entered the store and then, in a bout of uncertainty checked his own messages from when they had been drinking the night before. He vaguely remembered sending some, but couldn’t remember what about or to whom. He grimaced as he discovered that his phone had deleted them. He made his selection quickly, paid, and then fled to the sidewalk to text Ath’ran.

He tried to type “should” several times, but was thwarted each time by the phone’s auto-fill function. It took him several moments to figure out how to turn it off, and then sent Ath’ran a message.

Every time I try to type “should” my phone auto-corrects it to “shouldn’t”. Even my phone knows my ideas are terrible.

He watched the “message sent!” dialogue appeared and belatedly hoped that Ath’ran had taken his phone back from little Riyad by now. It was a testimony to his continued uncertainty in his own ability to run a business, and his nephew did not need hints as to his uncle’s low self-esteem.

At that point, he received a text, surprisingly, from Julian, which said, I am currently eating pure cake frosting...I am not sure how I was ever referred to as a responsible adult.

For the fourth time, Riyad stared at his phone. Why was Julian messaging him? He checked the message details and saw, rather than his name in the “recipient” space, Julian had selected “all”. That explained that. Perhaps the Healer was drunk.

After an excruciating moment trying to figure if that was even possible given the man’s powers, he gave up and headed back to the tram station. Waiting on the platform, he decided to send a message to the last sane person he could think of: Rabbit.

I’ve almost got Alan’s items ready for you to pick up. He paused before hitting send, thinking back on the other man’s strange problems recently, and added, How are you doing?

He was boarding the tram when Rabbit responded. He had apparently misunderstood the question to be time-specific. I just followed a trail of feathers and glitter to library. Today better be fucking magical.

Riyad decided he didn’t want to know. He also decided that the next time he went out of headquarters on his own, he was turning his phone off.


Author's note: Admittedly, the inspiration for this story (and a few of the lines from it) came from Texts From Last Night.