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AMMA
a novel,
by Jade Crawford

This is a work of fiction. All characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced, except in small quotations, without the author’s consent.
All rights reserved, © Jade Crawford, 2017

For Leelah Alcorn

“I wish to speak of bodies changed into other forms.” -Ovid, The Metamorphoses

I.
BEING GRIFFIN

MARY

“Shots fired!” That’s all I remember. How I ended up here, chasing a perp down Industrial Alley is any one’s guess. It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve had a gap like this. Something takes over when the adrenaline kicks in. Thoughts like, where did I park? and, how did I end up here? aren’t important yet. They won’t be until I have the man in white in handcuffs.

The one thing I’ll never get used to is the itch. All the pores open and I’m running too fast to stop. It feels like termites just beneath my skin. It’s like those Alien movies, with the monster about to pop, except I feel like I’m host to countless of them and they’re about to burst from every burning pore.

I’m out of breath by the time he’s out of sight, but oxygen doesn’t matter. There’s only one place he could have gone. I don’t even need to follow the trail of blood from the shoulder wound he left me. (Did I shoot him? Did Richards?) I pivot right, like when I was on the hockey team in college. I’m inside a large, spacious warehouse that looks like an Air Force hanger. I don’t have any objections to letting my knees rest for a moment. I comply with my brain’s need for oxygen. He’s as good as mine, anyway. We know Industrial Alley. There’s a precinct on Dock Street. Straight run, half a mile to the pier. I’m bound to be covered even if I didn’t call for backup (I honestly don’t remember.).

The man in white… Was it my imagination, or was his face painted like a clown? He had a pair of baggy sweats on, more off-white than his bright hoody. I distinctly remember smudge marks across his face. Yeah, he was painted up like a clown. There’s a lot of that lately. Sickos with balloons luring kids into the woods. It’s all coming back to me now. Someone spotted him fleeing a convenience store. I was in the area when Richards fired the shot above his arm. He was armed, the perp. I have to keep that in mind. Stop resting. Pay attention to your surroundings.

My gun is drawn. It has been before I left my squad car. The warehouse makes a terrible hiding place. It’s too open. Unless someone’s hiding among the rafters, they’re going down. And anyway, the trail of blood leads directly to the office. It could be a trap, but I don’t think he has the foresight. “Police!” I shout in front of the metal door. “Come out with your hands where I can see them!” My voice sounds raw and mannish.

No response.

“This is your final warning!”  Doors like this look sturdier than they are. It gives way with a well-placed kick. I cross the threshold before I fully process what I’m seeing: It’s not an office, it’s a desert. I can feel the heat eating its way through the autumn damp of my jacket. My sinuses start to clear. I am in an immense desert devoid of all humidity. There is no smog or urban noise, only the mythical shifting of the wind through ornamental sand drifts. My chest fills with something like melancholy. How? I should be having a heart attack. Against my better judgement, I look back for the threshold. It’s gone, utterly and completely. There is no warehouse. There is no ancient door coming off its hinges. There is only that mystic sky and those endless mountains.

I look back across the desert. Beneath the high noon sky, a ring of hawks circle. I look down to see what they’re circling and spot my man at last. He’s like a mirage, but still there when I run closer. He is lying on his side. Blood that is so dark it’s barely blood pools from his shoulder. It stains the desert. He is, God damn him, smiling at me. His brow is sweating. He is a sandy blonde with a comb-over. He’s two hundred pounds, at least. He looks more sturdy like this, a part of the landscape. He won’t die here, but he’s about to lose consciousness.

I look up and ask the sky, “Where the hell am I?

-1-
Griffin closed the comic book. He heard his father call again, “I said get the hell down here!” The teenage boy complied, springing up on long, bony legs. A stack of similar comic books cascaded down the bed. They hit the floor in a musical rush. AMMA, the covers declared, the latest run in a four volume series that had been going since the 1940’s. The artwork for this volume typically showed Mary Stanton or her alter ego, the titular gunslinger, exploring the surreal desert or fighting crime in the shanty towns of Shift. Shift being the mythical world Mary Stanton and the previous Ammas discovered through various catalysts like the Man in White.

On his way down the steps, Griffin Page reminded himself that Stanton was the fourth Amma. There had been three since Nancy Peele, a World War II pilot disguised as a man, crash landed. He had just discovered Shift and Amma himself, and was still piecing together the mythology and continuity. It was Nancy Peele, Margaret Teller, Deja Moon and Mary Stanton. Yeah, that was right… He didn’t have any of the Margaret Teller issues, but there was twenty bucks in his back pocket and later he’d–

“What is this?” Daryl Page, Griffin’s father, met him halfway down the steps. Though it was a bright March day, there was no light in this part of the house. Griffin flinched, trying to discern the tangled clot of dripping hair caught between his father’s well-muscled fingers. He tried to open his mouth, but Daryl spoke for him. “I’ll tell you what it looks like! It looks like hair from somebody’s careless ass who clogged my shower!”
Griffin was pushed backwards by the weight of his father’s mass. He stumbled and nearly fell, but managed to reach the landing. “Dad, I–” A backhand blow to the side of his head, just above the temple. Griffin stumbled for his room. His father pushed him the rest of the way. Though he was dizzy, he managed to catch his balance before falling to the floor.

“God damn high school junior!” Griffin’s father threw the clot of hair to the carpet. Of course it wasn’t hair from somebody’s careless ass, but Griffin’s head. He had rich, shoulder length, red hair. Daryl Page stepped on one the AMMA comics, creasing the cover in jagged curves that would never mend. He picked up a Wonder Woman from the stack by the dresser, let the pages hang and then sucked them into a tight fist. “This is what you spend your money on?” He tossed the comic to the far wall. Griffin flinched. Daryl took a heavy step forward. “God damn two o’ clock on a Saturday!” He bypassed Griffin, opting to thrust both hands at the vacant top bunk. It made a bucking, popping sound against the wall, joining the other marks Griffin’s father had made on the house.
And then it was over. Like Mary Stanton, Daryl seemed to blank out sometimes. All was silent as the patriarch gathered himself. Downstairs the phone rang. Probably a bill collector or a telemarketer. Griffin cast his eyes down at the carpet. His socks were off. He could see the freckle on his big toe, as if for the first time. So stark, so red. Like a fleck of blood.

The voicemail kicked on. “Boys? It’s Stacey. Pick up if you’re there.” Daryl turned away from the bed, pushing off from it. He had been leaning against the rail of the bunk with his heavy arms folded, forehead pressed against the bones. Just thinking. The voice downstairs belonged to his on again, off again girlfriend. She managed the Circle K across town.

Daryl sighed and stepped towards the hall. “Put your shoes on. You’re getting a haircut.”

-2-
Griffin watched the mirror. Dark circles emerged swiftly, with each severed sheath of hair below his brown eyes. He was pale, freckled and cold. After the clippers had done their job, he was left with a few centimes of red fringe. It felt like velcro.

“Put your hand down, hon.” Molly Sawyer, the nineteen year old stylist said. Dad wanted to take him to a barber shop, but Smart Style was closer, adjacent to Wal Mart. Molly graduated from Griffin’s high school. She used to live down the block. “I’m just gonna clean your neck up.” She brushed his skull off with a towel and grabbed the clippers again. “How’s your dad doing?”

“Okay, I guess.”

Molly watched the entrance. Right on cue, Daryl Page returned. He carried a plastic bag in each hand. He froze in place, less than a foot from the threshold. Wal Mart’s denizens buzzed behind him, like frantic worker bees. Griffin took a deep breath of chemicals. He could almost taste the nail polish from the mani-pedi place down the hall. Carts cried out and jangled in an endless shuffle. Griffin looked away. He didn’t say a word.

Daryl paid the cashier once Griffin stood. It was a young, jagged looking Native guy with skinny pants and black nails. His face was dark and smoldering, lined to the jaw in dark hair. His blue eyes evened him out a bit. What harm could a guy like this do? Daryl wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Have a good one,” he said, and even from the exit, Griffin could see his studded tongue ring.

Once they were out of earshot Daryl regarded the cashier. “What a fag.” Outside the moon was full. It was still daylight, though a pink band of bloated clouds chafed the Sandia Mountains. Albuquerque wasn’t Shift, but it felt like it sometimes. Griffin wished it was populated by humanoids with bison heads and fairy-like elementals, as Shift was, instead of disappointing people like his father and Stacey Mills. Speaking of Stacey, they were driving down Carlisle to pick her up from work next. Griffin waited in the overgrown Ford while his father went into the Circle K for cigarettes. He emerged with his girlfriend, who kept a six pack of Budweiser tucked beside her hip. She laughed at something a homeless person said, so loud he could see her dark fillings by the time she opened the door.

“Oh, shit! That’s funny.” She wiped her dripping nose with the back of her hands and handed Griffin the six pack. He moved over. Stacey wore a gold cross that glistened in the dark cab almost audibly. He traced the pattern with his tired eyes. He couldn’t help it. “Daryl, ten points if you can hit that bum.” Stacey said to his father. He drove around the homeless man onto Indian School Road. Stacey’s left hand went to the gold cross and zipped it across the chain while she chuckled endlessly. Griffin often wondered what a religious fanatic like Stacey was doing with his agnostic father. They had little in common which seemed to bond them for long. Looking down the deep lens of the rearview mirror he saw the homeless man and figured it out: Hatred. That was the one quality which bonded them indefinitely, through every fight and reconciliation. Their ceaseless, neurotic, critical commentary of the people around them.

He took out his phone and opened the digital comics ap. He had deposited the twenty dollars in an atm and could buy a few of the Margaret Teller Ammas. Teller’s volume ran from 1955 to ’65, which made the series part of the Silver Age. It was published by Supreme, which went bankrupt soon after Teller’s volume ended. Griffin knew this because he had studied Amma religiously and devoured article after article on Wikipedia and the Amma Wiki, as well as Comic Vine and other websites.

Though the current volume began less than a year ago, and the first appeared in the ’40’s, Amma was still considered a Pulp comic, like Vampirella and the occult bombshells of the ’60’s. Deja Moon’s Amma certainly fit that bill (her adventure began in ’69 an ended in ’75), but it failed to define any of the other volumes. Stanton’s was more surreal so far, and the original series was kind of hokey. It had that early Wonder Woman, patriotic element common at the time.

The main thing all the Amma volumes shared was the premise. He didn’t need to skim ahead of Teller’s first Amma issue to know how it ended. The women always left our world and stumbled upon Shift accidentally. Peele had the most direct entrance. She discovered the other world after crawling from the wreckage of her downed plane. Margaret Teller (you wouldn’t know by the cover, which showed a blonde gunslinger with an opened black leather jacket, exposing the silver chest plate below her collar bones) was a twelve-year-old, homeless orphan. She stole a loaf of bread from a downtown farmer’s market and crawled down a manhole to escape capture. The merchant was of course armed and chased little Margaret down into the sewers. Margaret, thinking she knew the sewer system, took a tunnel passage which lead not to the river drain she expected, but a mine shaft in a Shift mountain. Teller made her way through the mine shaft and found the abandoned temple of the goddess Amma, a lady gunslinger carved out of silver. The statue was equipped with a real holster and almost purely turquoise gun. Once she took the gun from the holster to protect herself, Margaret became Amma. She stood before the statue as a much taller blonde woman wearing the gunslinger’s hat, jacket, chest plates, leather pants and cowgirl boots. She had none of the goddess’s consciousness, but all of her own. She was just as excited and shocked as you’d expect a young girl from the fifties to be. “Jiminy Christmas!” She famously called.

Griffin, who had been starring at the cover a little too long, attracted Stacey’s attention. “Look at you!” She laughed. “All I ever see you do is stare at those girls. Have you ever even touched a real woman?” But she said it good naturedly, lighting a Newport with the window up.

Griffin didn’t respond. If his father and Stacey Mills thought his preoccupation with Amma, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman was sexual, let them. It was safer that way. As he stroked the cover page with his glance, there was with a sense of longing there, yes, but it wasn’t sexual. He didn’t want to screw Amma, or Catwoman. Not even Woman Woman. He wanted to be them.

-3-
It was dark in his bedroom. The overhead light bulb was out and he had one spider lamp by the corner outlet. Griffin switched them on. His room was dominated by a ’90’s bunk bed no one thought to dismantle it after his brother died. It wasn’t as if he had sleepovers. From the other side of the wall, country music vibrated. Griffin put his ear buds in and opened his laptop. It rested on the extreme edge of the lower bed. The bed was unmade, and the thick stack of Amma issues still reached across the floor. He plugged the outlet into the audio jack and opened Pandora. When the Wi-Fi kicked in, he played his Depeche Mode station and opened the Comixology ap. He wanted to continue Margaret Teller’s first Amma adventure in relative peace.

“Griffin!” He was five pages in before his father called. Sighing, he unplugged one ear bud. He didn’t have to speak for Daryl to continue. “Do me a favor.” Griffin unplugged the other ear bud. The walls were so thin, with the country music stalled, Daryl’s voice reached through unfiltered.

Griffin felt obliged to return the last statement. “Yeah?”

Daryl stalled, probably drunk, remembering what he was going to say. Stacey reminded him in a murmur. “Yeah! Go back to Wal Mart. I forgot toilet paper and the DiGiorno Pizza.”

Griffin sighed into his opened hands. He didn’t reply, just stood up and went out into the hall. His father met him, shirtless in the master bedroom doorway. Stacey was sitting on the edge of the bed, the red strap of her bra visible above the torn shoulder. She was smiling through tears of laughter, black mascara smudged, a proud joint between her dirty knuckles. Beside her, the ashtray smoldered with Newports and cigarillos. Griffin reached for his father’s keys. “Take the Chrysler.” Daryl said. “There’s a twenty on the table.”

The twenty wasn’t on the table. He had to knock on his father’s door loud enough to drown out the country music and wet, sloppy kisses. It took a while for Daryl to find his wallet. Once it was located, Griffin produced his hoody and went out into the yard. It was dominated by a Trump Pence sign, a rock garden and the massive Ford. Griffin ducked into the alley, where the Chrysler was parked outside the garage. Someone’s dog barked through the darkness, a haunting but comforting sound. The summons stopped when he reached the car door. Griffin stepped inside, closed it, then sat for a while enjoying the absolute silence. There was no such thing as time in a parked car. At least, that’s how it felt to him. Griffin closed his eyes and laid back. Like a vision, a prospect appeared. He saw the male stylist from the Wal Mart salon. He would be pushing a broom now, preparing to close. I could stop in, he thought, pretend I lost my wallet . He pictured the tall Native dude, slim hips and long, dark denim. Just pushing a broom, his tight knuckles lodged around the broom’s handle, maybe tapping a song out. I’d have to leave him my number in case he found it.

Griffin started the car. We’ll see.

-4-
On the way, he thought of Amma. Margaret Teller’s Amma, specifically. In a way, it was more enjoyable than Stanton’s. It was pure story. Stanton’s Amma won awards for its artwork and surreal panels, but it was more character driven and complex. Griffin didn’t mind complex, but of late, he wanted to escape more than he wanted to ruminate on the abstract. Teller’s mission was layed out from the onset. Five years had passed since Nancy Peele brought democracy to Shift. As Amma, she helped the Shifters overthrow their diabolical dictator Rudo. She nominated buffalo headed Cyrus, the Sheriff of Debushock, to be President before returning Amma’s turquoise gun to its holster on the silver statue in the mineshaft temple. Soon after, she disappeared from Shift and left the Shifters to pursue life, liberty and American ideology.

Shortly after, a rift in Shift’s surface opened exposing the Underplace, a bizarre world ruled by the Red Queen themed Princess. Princess was a kind of inverse Margaret Teller. She appeared to be Margaret’s age, but was completely sinister and unstable. She belonged to the Spoiled Brat archetype and wanted to absorb Shift into her empire. Margaret’s work then, was to save Shift from the Underplace. Griffin wondered if any of these elements would find their way into Mary Stanton’s Amma or if Teller managed to kill off the Princess. He hoped not. She was bizarre enough to fit into the present volume organically.

His stomach buckled with anxiety when he took the left turn to Wal Mart. What the hell was he planning here? Did he really think his father would allow any kind of relationship to play out between Griffin and a guy? Who’s to say he would even find a buzzed redhead attractive? Griffin cleared his mind and parked the car. He was just here to buy a pizza and some toilet paper. He would head in, check out and drive home without incident. He would call his friend Chloe and tell her all about it. Actually, he would probably just text her, unless he could get outside. He wouldn’t want his dad to hear him through the wall.

Chloe and Griffin shared art class and study hall. They met last year when her family moved from Santa Fe. Griffin gravitated towards her immediately. She had buzzed hair and ate alone in her Impala listening to Dead Can Dance and smoking black cigarettes with the windows down. She read David Mack’s Kabuki and vintage Sailor Moon. Her late mother sang for the Santa Fe Opera. Her father was a Libertarian and her stepmother practiced Dianic Wicca. He couldn’t wait to tell Chloe he had also shaved his head. It was the one bright spot to his new look.

“Are you gay?” She asked him last year, when it was clear he hadn’t hiked that far up the Sandia Mountains to seduce her.

“I think it’s more complicated than that.” He told her. It was the only time he said it out loud. “Are you?”

She thought for a moment and said, “I think I like dick too much,” which wasn’t uncharacteristic for Chloe. He always knew she had more testosterone than him. She was more vulgar than the guys in gym class he shared a locker room with.

“Some girls have dicks.” Griffin said. He tried sounding as matter of fact and comfortable as Chloe did, but it was hard for him to sound even marginally vulgar. Griffin couldn’t talk about anatomy as if it were part of the weather. He looked down and examined his knuckles meanwhile. He was double jointed and enjoyed cracking them.

Chloe nodded, pursing her lips thoughtfully. “I guess so…” When her mind cleared, she asked him candidly, “You like guys then?”

“Welcome to Wal Mart…” The greeter looked past Griffin. He didn’t respond. The gate to the Smart Style was half down.

“I do.” He told Chloe back when, sealing the admission with a somber nod. Chloe returned it with a less dire one.

“Not that this matters, but have you been with a guy?”

He shook his head. His eyes were downcast. “I’m a virgin.” He said, but unspoken added, When you know, you know.

She might have heard him, because she took his hand and said, “I feel you.”

Before Griffin knew what he was doing, he called into the gate, “Excuse me?”

The guy with the long hair looked back behind his shoulder. He was squatting in front of the register, counting bottles of conditioner. His band shirt crept up, giving Griffin a view of silver studs on a purple belt. A single vertebrae, lush and round, crept beneath the band of his boxer briefs. “What’s up?” He smiled and brushed a lock of cobalt hair behind his multi-pierced ear.

“Did I, um, leave my phone here?” He happened to be holding his phone, which was damp with palm sweat. “Wallet! I mean, my wallet.”

“I didn’t see anything. Deb?”

Short haired, spry and deeply animated, a woman he hadn’t seen before emerged behind the wash bowls. “No!” She wore a black smock over tight leggings and Mary Janes. Her thick mascara made her small eyes seem enormous.

“Connie? Molly?” No one had seen it. Obviously. Griffin took out a piece of paper he produced from the car. On it was scribbled the half legible post script, I DIDN’T REALLY LOSE MY WALLET. TEXT ME? and his cell number.

He handed it to the guy (his nametag said DJ) and turned away. They all responded in the affirmative, Deb louder than anyone. Evidently, she was the manager. He hoped the note wouldn’t get passed to her in ignorance. A date with Connie and Deb wasn’t his ideal evening

-5-
And then everything changed for Griffin Page, first the worse, then for the better, then for the worse. He didn’t remember most of the drive home. One minute he was hurrying to unlock the Chrysler, the next he was sitting at a stop sign a block from his house. There was an ambulance parked in their small drive, and a police cruiser on the street. Everything was red, blue light and panic. There was no noise. Griffin had never really noticed the contrast between those two colors. How black the sky had become, and how white the stretcher they took his father’s body out on. Albuquerque was full of polarities. He left the car in park, forgetting to turn the engine off, or prop the parking break.
It wasn’t his father’s body that scared him, but the memories unearthed. He had only been looking at those blinking lights five years back, when his brother died.

“Sir?” The first of two officers called.

“Do you live here?” The second asked.

Griffin began to develop impressions of their faces. One was a woman, short and fat. The other was a man, tall and thin. The man was black, and the woman white. Polarities. Griffin shook his head but said, “Yes. Yes, what happened?”

“He’s the son.” It was Stacey, draped in an Afghan on the porch. She looked about ten years older.

“We gotta go. You coming with?” A paramedic Griffin hadn’t seen before was talking. He had a stud through his chin and sideburns that looked like pubic hair. Griffin just stared at him. “Son?”

“Is he dead?”

“No. He had a heart attack. You coming?”  Griffin shook his head as they loaded his father’s body. It was so surreal. He was watching a hospital or a cop drama. Had to be. Doors slammed, something mechanical craned its way towards Daryl’s head. Griffin heard the sirens and watched the ambulance speed off into traffic. The darkness of downtown swallowed the image but barely smothered the noise.

Stacey was talking to the white police officer on the porch. Griffin caught the tail end of it. “–not his guardian, no.”

“Where’s the mother?” The cop asked. Griffin took a few steps forward, wanting desperately to be off that damned lawn, with it’s Law and Order scene and it’s Trump Pence sign and its tragedies. Most of all he didn’t want to hear Stacey Mills talk about his mother.

~

Sand and sorcery. Spurs and swords. Welcome to a Wild West you’ve never seen before. Meet Griffin Page, an Albuquerque teen with two deep secrets, as he steps into the comic book world of AMMA.

Queer Fiction meets the Fantasy West in AMMA, from the author of the magical realism novel Rough Magic. AMMA takes readers to Shift, a realm of gender-bending gunslingers, femme fatales and flying monkeys. Of course, Shift is just a place from a comic book… unless you’re a transgender teenager named Griffin Page.

Amma, Book #1 of Shift, is currently available in paperback and Kindle.

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