Author’s Note: I’m extremely proud of this novel, yet I’ve been so reticent and lazy about getting this one out into the world, for varying reasons I won’t go into here. I’ve decided I am going to share it with you all here, with an e-book version to be released via Smashwords sometime in the near future. My aim with this book was to write hopepunk: a Ghibli-inspired story about two best friends who want to become the next generation’s landlords at their apartment complex. The story is about determination, community, and love.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
“Here it comes, Kaffi!”
“Ha-ha! Come on, Diwa! Kick it already!”
Samuel and Graymar heard the thump of a punted ball coming from the central green below, immediately followed by an excited whoop! and the leathery flapping of tintrite wings heading towards them. A moment later the ball sailed past their balcony on the fifth floor, followed quickly by Graymar’s teenage son, flying full tilt towards it.
“Hi, paddir!” he chirped as he zipped by. “Hi, Samuel!”
Samuel laughed and waved, watching the young tintrite chase the ball through the air. Kaffi was only a teenager with awkwardly flailing arms and legs and a body that was still trying to figure itself out, and his greyish brown scales were in desperate need of a shine, but his wings had become wide and strong, just like his father’s. It would be a few more years before he filled in and grew in height and bulk to mirror Graymar.
He enjoyed Kaffi’s jovial personality, especially as he was a positive influence on his own son Diwa. Those two boys had been the best of friends since they were little, and they’d been joined at the wing ever since. They were always running or flying around the estate during the day, and most of the residents here knew them well. Recently they’d started playing an increasingly complex game of catch across the main green of the estate after they returned from school, making up new rules and changing old ones whenever they felt like it. The current version had them sending the ball into tight areas, through the tree canopies and everywhere else. It was the two at their best; Kaffi loved to fly, and Diwa loved a good mental game to keep his mind active.
He watched Kaffi swoop and dive and curve in the air as if it were second nature, as they kicked and tossed the ball back and forth a few times, laughing and cheering each other on. He was so unlike Graymar in many ways, and yet so much the same. They were both strong fliers, naturals at speed and agility, with a serious and deep-seated love for being up in the air. They were both impulsive yet tempered it with a quick intelligence. And they shared a long-lasting and deep connection with their closest friends, that special bond between human and tintrite.
Graymar, on the other hand, kept a very muted sense of humor, choosing to look at life much more seriously than his pahyoh. They watched Kaffi zero in on the ball after Diwa had punted it skyward once more, a bit of strain showing in the young tintrite’s reach, one taloned hand stretched far forward, so close to his goal. Diwa sometimes punted the ball into orbit in an unspecified direction, and it was up to Kaffi to catch it before it succumbed to gravity. He didn’t always reach it in time, but he never let it hit the ground. He’d watched Kaffi make a gut-dropping dive and make a last-minute catch with mere feet to spare, and he’d also nailed the catch before it completed its arc.
Samuel thought it quite creative of the boys, but Graymar only saw it as unorganized play. The tintrite stood tall behind him, his long hands resting at his belly, dark talons tapping against each other in annoyance, grumbling quietly. He was much taller and broader than Kaffi, an enormous tintrite with years of maturity and air time. His scales were a darker green and kept in much better condition than Kaffi’s. His own wings were held slightly aloft, twitching silently.
“Come on, Gray,” Samuel said with a grin, giving him a prod on the forearm. “They’re having fun. Besides, you wanted them to play more trust games, didn’t you?”
Graymar grumbled again, his usual response whenever he was irritable. “I did,” he conceded, his voice low and gravelly. His snout twitched again, his long whiskers wavering in response. “This is about your son,” he said. “He’s trusting Kaffi will catch the ball. But how can Kaffi trust Diwa with this game?”
Samuel nodded, conceding his point. “Fine, you got me. But it’s just a game. Let them have fun.”
“Eiyah! Got it!”
Both Samuel and Graymar looked up to see Kaffi swooping upwards into a holding pattern, his mottled brown and gray wings fluttering madly, the ball clutched between his talons. Unlike his scales, Kaffi’s wings were in perfect health and shimmered with iridescence as he pumped them in midair. He was grinning madly, his fangs sparkling in the sunlight.
“Building C! Go!” Kaffi barked. He leaned slightly to his left and twisted into a graceful arc that would take him across the green and closer to the apartment towers across the way. It was an impressive maneuver for a teenage tintrite; it showed that he was already well in command of his basic flying abilities and had already begun to learn new tricks. But what impressed Samuel the most was that Kaffi still had the ball between his talons. Not his fingers, but between the tips of his talons, cradling it gently as he focused on his next destination. He might be boisterous and reckless, but he could also be surprisingly delicate.
“He’s too soft on your son,” Graymar muttered, though his voice had lightened somewhat. “…but I will admit to being impressed by his ability to adjust his position so smoothly. He’s mastered that already.”
Down below, Diwa emerged from under a canopy of leaves, a tall and gangly human teenager running full tilt towards the tall apartment tower directly across the green. Other neighbors, human and otherwise, watched him with amusement as he darted past, cheering him on. He’d already planned on taking the shortest route possible to get there, which posed an altogether new problem aside from catching the ball in time. Two thirds of the way there, he would need to cut through the far corner of the neighborhood garden, past the picnic tables and across the edge of the playground. Staying on the winding and busy footpath that doglegged between it all would only waste time and energy.
“You’re not going to make it, Dee!” Kaffi taunted from up in the air, watching him plot out his course.
“Shut up, Kaffi!” he taunted in return, laughing all the way. ‘Time?”
“I’ll give you thirty seconds before I launch this ball, though I doubt you’re going to be there for it!”
In a fit of bravado, Diwa barked out a laugh in response and headed straight for the garden.
Graymar huffed and ruffled his wings in annoyance. “He’s going to ruin the seedlings.”
That was a possibility, but he trusted his son not to be that reckless and destructive. “Come on, have faith in him,” Samuel countered.
With a renewed burst of speed, Diwa vaulted over the fence and landed perfectly on the wood plank walkway that had been laid down just yesterday by the gardening tenants. Without slowing down, he leapt from one row to the other with surprising agility, never missing one. Both Samuel and Graymar caught their breath; Diwa must be mapping it out in his mind just a few steps ahead! However, Diwa had realized too late that the last plank had been dropped loosely without any stabilization, and as soon as he hit it he lost his balance, nearly landing face first in fresh compost. Unshaken, he quickly adjusted by shifting into a completely ungraceful twirl, regaining his footing and landing next to the boundary fence, away from any plantings. Laughing nervously and proudly to himself, he vaulted over it and resumed his chase towards Building C.
Wow! Go, Diwa! Samuel thought, barely containing his excitement.
Graymar hummed this time, high and clipped, clearly amused by Diwa’s misstep. “Awkward, but impressive,” he said.
Kaffi reappeared beside one of the taller trees lining the green, launching the ball well ahead of Diwa’s spot. “Here it comes!” he chirped. But he’d been high enough that he did not see the two tenants emerging from under Building C’s front awning until it was far too late. Both Samuel and Graymar caught their breath, leaning forward and gripping the railing in a stunned silence.
“Ai!” he cried out. “Diwa!”
Diwa hadn’t yet responded. He’d been watching the tenants, greeting them as they walked by. They responded in kind and took off towards the rear bungalows and out of harm’s way. As soon as he heard Kaffi’s yelp of concern, however, he turned and saw the ball sailing straight towards him. Making a few extreme last-minute calculations, he hurriedly skipped a few steps to his right, nearly tripped over himself, and managed to catch the ball with a loud, skin-stinging slap.
Kaffi landed clumsily soon after, bent over on all fours, barking with nervous laughter. “Ai, Diwa!” he said. “That was way too close! You call that a catch?”
“Not my fault you can’t throw!” he said, juggling the ball from one hand to the other. His palms were a bright red, but he was smiling. “You need to work on your aim.”
“You sound like my paddir,” Kaffi giggled.
Diwa waved at his friend’s wings. “Excellent form, though. I’m still not sure how you’re able to turn and glide like that.” Kaffi dipped his snout in appreciation, and the two boys continued their conversation down the walkway towards the Building C entrance, out of earshot.
Samuel let out a slow and even breath and untensed his shoulders.
“That…was a bit close,” Graymar said, his voice a low rumble.
Samuel hummed in agreement as he turned his way. Graymar had backed away from the railing and was sitting on his hinds on the balcony floor, arms resting on his belly once more. Even sitting as he was, his head just about cleared the balcony’s roof. His snout was pointed downwards and swung slightly, and his wide mouth was a tight jagged line, the equivalent of human pursed lips. He grumbled in irritation once more. His wings fluttered, tapping against the scales on his back. Graymar was a tintrite that wanted to move right now, but held himself quietly still instead.
“You’re right,” Samuel said, leaning back against the railing, watching Graymar fret. “That game of theirs is a bit haphazard. It’s a simple game of catch, but it only tests their timing.”
“There was no coordination between them whatsoever!” the tintrite huffed.
“Agreed,” he said. “but it doesn’t have to be all about coordination, Gray. You watched Diwa navigate the garden almost flawlessly—”
“Almost,” Graymar snorted, flashing a quick fang.
“It’s about knowing the area,” he continued. “I know for a fact I’d have gone the longer way around the garden and playground and missed the catch entirely.”
“You were never good at catch games, Samuel,” he teased.
Samuel didn’t miss a beat. “You never wanted to play them! Seriously, though…I see potential. They were confident in their surroundings. They’re comfortable and aware of the other residents nearby. They’ve been all over this estate for years, they know it backwards and forwards. I’ve seen them both taking a lot of initiative, helping the tenants, and chipping in during our quarterly festivals. They’re old enough to be our interns now. Diwa has been showing interest in the tenancy committee. He’s been active in the last few meetings. I’d be happy to show him the ropes. And he says Kaffi has an interest.”
Graymar lifted his snout quickly in response, tilting it slightly at him. “Kaffi hasn’t said anything about this to me.” Samuel had expected as much. Graymar’s relationship with his pahyoh – with anyone, come to think of it – sometimes required a lot of patience and understanding.
“He’s waiting for the right moment. Ask him, or at least let him know you’re aware of his wishes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be interested.”
Ai, Graymar could be such a tough nut to crack sometimes! He stood aside him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Seriously, Gray. We need to make this decision sooner or later. We’re the landlords of this estate. We can’t just up and retire without handing over the positions. It wouldn’t be fair to our tenants, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to our replacements. The position has been handed down multiple generations of my family, Gray, and I believe—I know Diwa and Kaffi want it. I’d gladly hand it to them. They only need to ask.”
Graymar lifted his snout and his brow at him. “And you believe our sons are up to the task?”
“That’s for them to prove,” he said.
A low, slow grumble; reluctant agreement.
Samuel patted him on the arm once more, glancing up at him. Graymar stood much taller than him when he sat on his hinds, his tail wrapped around him and his wings folded tightly behind. “I believe in them, Gray,” he said calmly, and he meant it. “I believe they could be great landlords if we start showing them the ropes now.”
“Hmmm.” That was more of a hum than a grumble. Annoyed but not angry.
“Kaffi’s going to be of paired flight age as well.”
“This is true.”
“And Kaffi loves to fly.”
“That he does.”
“What do you think? Shall we set things in motion?”
Graymar thought for a long moment before answering. He made no noise, but his jaw had unclenched, and he let out a slow snort of breath. Eventually he flashed him a quick fang of appreciation. “We shall.” And with a loud grunt, he leapt up onto the concrete balcony railing and unfurled his mighty wings. They were a rich grayish brown, and they had a breathtakingly wide span, much wider than Kaffi’s. The speed of the movement sent a rush of air past Samuel, blowing at his hair.
He grinned at him. “Show off.”
Graymar turned and looked at him over his shoulder, his smile growing wider. “We’ll speak more of this later,” he said, and launched himself into the air. He dropped with his wings at full span and let the air lift him back up, soaring over the central park green towards the roof of Building C.
“Yes, we shall,” Samuel said, humming in satisfaction, and turned to head towards the central stairway, back to his own apartment there in Palm Building.